Dhruv Patel: How charities are adapting mental health support during Covid-19

19 May 2020 Voices

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week Dhruv Patel from City Bridge Trust looks at how charities have adapted their support.

The voluntary sector plays an increasingly important role in helping people with mental health problems, especially at a time when heavy demands are being made on NHS services.
It has never been more relevant than now, as many of us try to manage our own anxieties during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some people seem to be coping well with the lockdown and our new way of life; others, less so. For some it is overwhelming.
For me, as a businessman with staff to manage, my wife managing a team across Singapore, and us both having two young children at home to look after – I am fully aware of challenges that arise. I can only imagine how people in tougher situations and potentially in financial difficulty added on are managing to cope.
The support offered by charities is in great demand. From what we are seeing and hearing, as a major funder working with charities across London, supporting mental health needs is a priority – and a growing one – within the sector.

City Bridge Trust Covid-19 response

Last month, City Bridge Trust pledged £1m to a new emergency support fund to help London’s community and voluntary organisations affected by the impact of Covid-19. The aim of the emergency programme, known as the London Community Response Fund (LCRF), is to throw a lifeline to charities that are facing immediate financial pressures and uncertainty.

The scheme, which is co-ordinated by London Funders and administered by City Bridge Trust, saw 2,274 applications submitted in the first nine weeks by groups across the capital, requesting over £41.5m of funding. According to the data, there is huge demand for mental health services. Whatever the theme, the borough they are in, whoever they are working with, mental health always comes out at the top of the list.
The LCRF initiative has tried to keep pace with the demand for funding and support on mental health, to assure organisations that we are listening. This also applies to the concerns about mental health and well-being of the teams working across civil society, providing invaluable support to our communities, so all of the funding programmes encourage groups to include the costs associated with supporting their teams, from clinical supervision to counselling, in their applications.
Over the last 10 years, City Bridge Trust, as the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, has made hundreds of grants totalling several millions of pounds to charities supporting people with their mental health and wellbeing, including in the workplace. Many of the grant recipients from the mental health sector are showing great resourcefulness in how they are adapting their services to ensure that they are still accessible.

Moving online

Most charities that offer counselling and therapeutic support have moved to providing this online. For example, we recently awarded £113,000 to Rethink Mental Illness’s Step Up University programme, which supports students starting university life. During the difficulties presented by Covid-19, they have adapted Step Up University to become an online resource for universities and students in London and beyond. They have created resources offering support to help students, including two new guides.
They have shared these with the six London universities involved in the project and several more throughout the UK and, so far, they have been viewed over 7,000 times. By creating accessible and free online content, they have been able to engage students who might not have been part of the scheme in the first place. The charity has been successful in continuing to support students, even in this difficult time, by adapting their services.
And yet, despite many organisations being able to adapt in this way, a recent study by London Youth revealed that a large number of youth organisations and youth workers are concerned about how young people in lockdown can be supported, because they may be less likely to seek help, or prefer to confide in a youth worker whom they know, but are unable to contact.
Over the past few weeks, London Youth has surveyed 290 youth workers from 149 different organisations on the impact of Covid-19 on their youth organisations, and how they were adapting, and gauging the level of support that they need. One key theme that stood out from the youth workers’ responses was concern about the well-being and mental health of young people in unsafe family or living situations, and those from deprived backgrounds or in sub-standard accommodation.
There is no doubt that the voluntary sector’s ability to help and support in this area has improved significantly over the years but, even though the sector is doing sterling work to adapt its support during such an unprecedented time, concerns remain about people slipping through the net.
All of these initiatives have been set up to encourage people to recognise – and not ignore - their problems. They are being encouraged to open up about their issues and to take positive action to help them improve their lives. As increasingly more employers prioritise mental health, this work will gather momentum. As a country, we are undoubtedly making progress in working to ending the stigma and providing support through private, public, and civil society initiatives. 
People’s self-isolation – their lockdown – shouldn’t mean that their feelings are locked down or shut away. The voluntary sector takes mental health very seriously and although more needs to be done, those who work in this vital sector deserve our gratitude for reaching out to those in need during these difficult times.
Dhruv Patel, is chair of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust committee
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