To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, we shine a light on pioneering projects that are improving the wellbeing of millions
In a surprising career twist, rapper Loyle Carner launched a cookery school for teens with ADHD and anxiety. A dab hand in the kitchen, the musician is spreading the word on the therapeutic benefits of cooking, after teaming up with Mikey Krzyzanowski from the Goma Collective social enterprise.
Carner (pictured with Krzyzanowski) recalls one participant who was crippled with shame at his poor GCSE results. “But he was probably the most gifted chef in the room,” he told Positive News. “At the end of the week, Jack Stein gave him an internship at the restaurant in Cornwall.
“He’d been told he wouldn’t amount to anything, because he didn’t have the grades to get him there, and the next thing – he’s working in probably the best fish restaurant in the UK.”
Image: Vicky Grout
The UK is home to an estimated 250 care farms, which host vulnerable people and engage them in farming as a form of therapy. They target groups such as dementia patients, young people at risk of school exclusion and people with learning difficulties.
One participant called Richard (who asked us not to use his surname) said he was “in a very dark place” when he arrived at Pathways Care Farm in Suffolk, England, having spent “years in and out of secure wards”.
“I’m sure by now I’d have done another few months under lock and key if it wasn’t for Pathways,” he told Positive News. “It’s been a shining light.”
Image: Damien Hockey
Cold water swimmers swear that icy dips do wonders for their mental health. One advocate is Rachel Ashe (pictured), founder of the social enterprise Mental Health Swims.
She started out by organising swims at her local beach in Swansea for anyone who, like her, was struggling with mental health. The idea caught on and now volunteer-led meets take place at 80 locations in the UK and Ireland under the aegis of Mental Health Swims.
It starts with a dip, followed by tea, cake and a 10-minute litter pick-up. You don’t even have to be a strong swimmer to take part. “Dips not distance” is the enterprise’s motto.
Image: Mental Health Swims
Like all good ideas, Action for Happiness started life as a note scrawled on a piece of paper. It has since grown into a mass participation movement, with hundreds of thousands of members who take part in a wide range of activities.
Drawing on the latest scientific research, the organisation encourages followers to take practical action to help build a happier society.
Image: Lidya Nada
Figures reveal that 4,912 people took their own lives in England in 2020 – that’s about 94 people a week. The vast majority are men.
These stark stats are why The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) exists. Led by Simon Gunning (pictured), it has been needed more than ever during the pandemic: taking an extra 130,000 calls to its free, confidential and anonymous helpline, as well as seeing a 100 per cent uptick in web visits.
CALM publishes regular content on its website, such as features on tackling social isolation, making friends and exploring male body image.
Even as the pandemic recedes, many healthcare professionals are experiencing burnout. It raises the question: who’s looking after their mental health?
Duty to Care is. It provides access to a directory of vetted wellbeing practitioners offering services to frontline healthcare workers.
Similarly, the therapist-matching website welldoing.org has a list of counsellors and psychotherapists on its site that offer free services for frontline NHS workers.
Image: Luke Jones
Birds singing, apples glistening on trees. It’s not a scene most of us would associate with prisons. But that’s exactly what those at The Orchard Project hope to achieve.
The charity is partnering with the Ministry of Justice to create an orchard in every prison in England and Wales. As well as boosting fruit production and biodiversity, the project helps inmates become more resilient (and less likely to reoffend) by giving them horticulture skills.
Alex Boscarino, activities manager at Manchester’s Thorn Cross Prison, said: “The men often have mental health issues, so by giving them the responsibility of looking after the orchard, it gives them a purpose. They can see the progress – the impact that their loving and caring [is having] on the trees.”
Image: Sophia Carey
The link between social media and poor mental health is well documented, with some of the major platforms being dogged by claims that they profit from fake news and divisive content. If only there was an alternative.
Well, now there is: Supernova. Launched by former Saatchi advertising maestro Dominic O’Meara, it was designed to stop users “scrolling through bile”.
Those signing up will discover an experience not unlike Instagram. Behind the familiar-looking interface, though, O’Meara promises human moderators tasked with weeding out toxic content. He also pledged to give half of its profits to charity.
Image: Jonas Leupe
This association does important mental health work behind closed doors: the doors of sheds in particular.
Loneliness among older people disproportionately affects men, and this isolation can have huge knock-on impacts on both mental and physical health. So bringing together groups of men to do woodwork together – as well as chat and share experiences – is one way to tackle the issue.
The men’s sheds movement began in Australia before taking off in the UK, thanks to the head of the UK Men’s Sheds Association, Mike Jenn.
Image: Sebastian Huxley
It is a story that will be familiar to many new mums. “The transition from being a strong independent career woman, to a mother whose focus was nappies, sleep routines and night feeds, was one of the most challenging life adjustments I had ever been through,” said mother-of-two Sara Campin.
Consumed by feelings of failure compounded by the sense she was alone in her turmoil, Campin went on to channel those dark days into a mental wellness app.
Nourish aims to support those who go undiagnosed and untreated or who are deemed “not ill enough” to receive tailored support from the NHS. Officially one in five women suffer perinatal mental health issues, but research suggests that 42 per cent of mental health problems in new mothers fail to be picked up by a doctor or midwife.
Image: Kelly Sikkema
“It’s hard to talk about climate change because climate change hurts.” But not talking about it? Well, that’s worse. At least that’s according to Rebecca Nestor of the Climate Psychology Alliance, an organisation that explores the psychological impact of global heating.
To help people open up about the subject, Nestor launched a series of meetings in her native Oxford, where people could discuss the crisis over tea and cake. The gatherings, billed as ‘climate cafes’, were based loosely on the UK’s death cafes, where people talk about death over a cuppa.
The idea has caught on and the University of Hull is among those now running climate cafes. “It’s about helping raise awareness of the issue, but also starting conversations and looking for positive action,” said Dr Steven Forrest, a lecturer at the university.
Image: Tom Werner/Getty
In 2010, Joe Taylor ran a six-week pilot project in Watergate Bay, Cornwall, where 20 young people with mild to severe mental health issues were given one-to-one surfing lessons. The Wave Project was the UK’s first ‘surf therapy’ course, funded by the National Health Service.
The pilot was such a success that the charity now runs projects for 8–21 year-olds, referred by schools and mental health and social services, all around the UK.
Image: Jon Line
The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black people at the hands of police officers formed the backdrop to the creation of the Black Minds Matter UK (BMMuk) charity.
Agnes Mwakatuma (pictured) and her co-founder Annie Nash envisioned: “An organisation where Black people can receive the healing that they deserve.”
Following Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020, the pair launched a crowdfunding campaign to allow black individuals and their families to access free mental health services run by professional black therapists. After raising nearly £550,000, they set up the charity to try to ensure that the support continues.
Image: Black Minds Matter
It started out as a project to tackle social isolation during lockdown. The idea: to send musicians to perform on the doorsteps of vulnerable south-east Londoners, bringing them cheer as the lonely days passed.
But even though Covid restrictions have eased, many people are still feeling isolated. So, Give A Song has continued its uplifting work. The project has delivered hundreds of performances, playing to more than 6,000 people. Gigs have taken place at homes in Lewisham, as well as at care homes, food banks and several mental health projects.
People can nominate a recipient via an online form. Residents then watch or sing along from their doorstep or window as the musicians play outside. Visits are free, although some people choose to make a donation.
Image: Give A Song
A problem shared is a problem halved – but men don’t always find it easy to open up. Enter the MenCheck-in group, an online support group for men.
One of the members, Bertie, said that joining the group had made him feel calmer and more stable, in turn helping him to manage his anxiety.
“It felt like a luxury to be able to chat, hang out, laugh, talk about real issues and feel connected in such a disconnected and chaotic time,” he said. “The groups are essential for me for maintaining my sanity.”
Convinced of the power of bringing people together so they feel connected, journalist Bryony Gordon launched Mental Health Mates, a network for people who are experiencing mental health challenges.
Members meet regularly to walk and share their thoughts, without fear or judgement.
The initiative was inspired by Gordon’s own experience of obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, addiction and depression, all of which she talks frankly about on social media.
Image: Kitera Dent
Hearts and Minds is the UK’s only peer-led charity and service for young people experiencing mental health difficulties.
“We don’t save people – we help people realise they have value,” said its founder Beth Ingram (pictured left in the centre).
The charity’s national community is run entirely by young people with lived experience of mental health challenges. Its inspiration came from Ingram’s personal experience of being unable to find support from people her own age while grappling with a mental health crises.
Image: Hearts and Minds
Main image: Vince Fleming