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European Mental Health Awareness Week: First online awareness-raising campaign 4-10 May
Focusing on solidarity and community, the campaign is being run under the tagline #TogetherWeCan.
The week-long action is raising awareness of the importance of good mental health, sharing personal stories of how people are coping with difficulties during the coronavirus crisis. It also highlights the need for action to combat the stigma and discrimination that surrounds all mental and psychosocial difficulties.
A Twitter Q&A chat on Wednesday 6 May at 15.00 is open to anyone with a question about mental health via the hastag #AskMHE.
MHE director Claudia Marinetti and communications manager Tetiana Sykes explain some of the challenges Covid-19 places on the mental health sector and why their campaign can shine a light on everyone’s mental health.
How are frontline services responding to coronavirus?
Claudia Marinetti: “This crisis has put a spotlight on mental health. We are providing information about how you can look after your mental health. But it’s not just the current emergency, we need to mitigate any impact it will have in the future. We need to act and plan now. There is likely to be an increase in requests for mental health services. We need to make sure that services can cope, that the right people are involved and that we don’t end up with an over-medicalisation of problems. Now, more than ever, we need integrated care, entry point services where people can receive initial support. GPs, nurses, social workers or social carers can all be key to point people to the right solutions, especially to those who have never thought they would need mental health support. It may not be necessary to see a psychologist or psychiatrist; there are other solutions available. Peer to peer support networks, for example, could play an important role in supporting people who need to access services. Explaining to people what is happening and why it is happening can already help.
What are the economic challenges to meeting the need for extra services?
CM: We are not just talking about access to services, but also thinking about availability in terms of financing. What is going to happen to people in terms of unemployment and social protection, if an economic recession hits us. We also need to be ready to make labour market investments that put the worker first, not the profit. It’s not a choice between economy or well-being, the two things are very much interrelated and above all we need to make investments that don’t leave the most vulnerable behind.
How has the coronavirus pandemic been effecting MHE members?
CM: We have spoken to some service providers. They said their services had to adjust quickly. Members have found solutions like working with half their staff in order to have the other half available in case replacements are needed. This crisis has also created an opportunity for case workers who were reluctant to try other types of interventions, such as digital ones. I don’t think you can ever remove the importance of face to face contact, though, so this should restart as soon as possible too. Some countries are already able to organise a “coffee to go”, where the outreach worker will meet a client outdoors to maintain physical distance. They can walk or cycle; do some exercise while having someone to talk to. It’s really opening up the possibility of more flexible service provision.
Are there some positive messages coming from members?
CM: Now more than ever, being part of a European network such as MHE is very important, both in terms of sharing expertise and offering support. Our members, for example, have set up a WhatsApp group. They are not necessarily talking about work, but more checking on each other. It’s comforting knowing that across Europe, we are all facing the same situation and that we can make through it together. It’s also important that communities regain their strength again because there is a feeling that over the past years they have become weaker and less inter-connected. This crisis shows that communities are coming together again. It has also made clear that our social environment and life experiences, not necessarily biological factors, have a major impact on our mental health.
How can people get involved in the campaign?
Tetiana Sykes: This year, it’s an online action because of the current restrictions. We want to bring together all the various stakeholders: MHE members, policy makers, people with lived experience of mental ill-health. So many people are confronted with mental health issues now, perhaps for the first time. The aim is to show that we’re all going through this together and that together we can support mental health for all. The tagline also draws on MHE’s anti-stigma campaign Each of Us where everyone can become part of the solution in response to COVID-19. By doing this campaign, we hope to raise awareness and put the importance of mental health under an even bigger spotlight. We believe that good mental health and self-care will be the solution, communities and people coming together will also be the solution and the way to respond to future situations.
What was the thinking behind the campaign’s togetherness message?
TS: It’s about showing that we all have mental health and that it’s as important as taking care of our physical health. We are all in this together, and it’s only by joining forces and coming together we can make it through this crisis and beyond. This also works on a community and individual level, as well as on more national, political and international levels. This is especially positive for us – for example, we started seeing signs of recognition of the cross-cutting impact of mental health on society and economy at political level. We hope that the current situation will prompt the EU and national decision makers to reset mental health policies so that kindness, compassion and care prevail. And as the week’s tagline say: together, we can act now.