Thank you from Josh and the Mental Health Foundation.

Why kindness matters in later life; Josh’s story.

We have been the home of Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) since 2001, and take this responsibility serious as MHAW is one of the biggest campaigns of its kind in world. In April we made the decision to change the campaign this year. Instead of sleep and mental health, we focused kindness in a way that chimed with the national mood and also started a national conversation about a fresh approach towards creating a mentally healthier society.

Josh is a Group Facilitator for Standing Together Cymru – one of our projects which aims to improve mental health, wellbeing and build community connections through peer support groups. Here, he shares some insights into the role that kindness has played in these groups since lockdown:

Once at a peer support group, a newly widowed woman looked to an older widow for advice. She was told “you need to find your new normal”. This was a genuine heartfelt moment of kindness between two equals.

The coronavirus outbreak has had a huge impact on connection between people. It felt like we were playing a fruitful game of scrabble and the COVID-19 outbreak just flipped the board, ruining a great game we were on track to win. It was illegal to congregate, isolation was mandated and neighbours who became friends were cut off once more.

We miss the project we had, but we have had to find a new normal. We developed a telephone service, crucially putting social interaction between people at its heart. With permission, we were able to pass on messages from one neighbour to another – sometimes providing people with the only contact they’d had from their friends in weeks. We have since moved on to making ‘conference calls’. Using just a mobile phone, we are able to merge calls between our participants’ landlines; connecting friends who hadn’t spoken for over a month.

Kindness matters more than ever at a time like this. Pam, a group member, told me “we used to go to coffee mornings or play bingo, and just go straight home afterwards. But in Wednesday’s group we got to know things about each other that we never would have before… we became friends.”

It’s been incredible to hear of the way members of the group have helped each other since lockdown. Colleen has been making ice slices and lasagnes for everyone. Pam went out to buy fish paste and spam for everyone to celebrate VE day from a distance. Pam said “I love how nice everyone is being.” In some ways the new normal isn’t as bad is it first seemed.

The purpose of our Standing Together Cymru project is “to build resilience in later life communities through peer support”. As impressive as that sounds, what it boils down to for me is kindness. As nice as my part of the job is, it’s not my kindness that matters. Our capacity is limited, but humankind’s capacity for kindness is not. All we have to do is make a space for it and it will grow.

You can find out more about the Mental Health Foundation online resources by visiting www.mentalhealth.org.uk.

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