18-24 May 2020 is Mental Health Awareness Week. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the theme switched from Sleep to Kindness. 

When the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) changed the theme Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, said:

"Now more than ever we need to re-discover kindness in our daily lives. We want to use Mental Health Awareness Week to celebrate the thousands of acts of kindness that are so important to our mental health. And we want to start a discussion on the kind of society we want to shape as we emerge from this pandemic."

COVID-19 has meant pretty radical changes for all of us in a very short amount of time. We have had to adapt quickly to a whole new way of life. It has been challenging, of course. It is awful for some people. And it has taught us lots – not least that as human beings we are hugely adaptable, and that adversity often brings out the absolute best in most people; in the worst of times we have seen people driven to help and support each other. 

Kindness connects us with one another. Up and down the country we have seen thousands of acts of kindness. Take, for example, the paper boy in Brighton who made friends with an elderly woman through her window and now cycles to gets any shopping she needs as part of his daily paper round. 

Or my parent’s neighbours who walk my darling dog Dolly every day because she was staying with them ‘for a fortnight’ when lockdown began. Or the 100s or 1000s of people coordinating local volunteer efforts in their community to make sure vulnerable or elderly neighbours get help as they need it. Or Captain Tom Moore raising £32m for charity at 99 years old. 

These individual examples are running alongside major national volunteering efforts to support people and their wellbeing through the crisis such as the Samaritans, St John Ambulance or Shout UK volunteers. 

Like many others up and down the country I am proud that Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England Instructor Members and Mental Health First Aiders are volunteering their time and expert skills in their workplace, for local charities, community groups and to support NHS staff working on the frontline

These acts of kindness are amazing. They are quite literally a lifeline helping people make it through the challenges of everyday life right now. And I am grateful for, and proud of the way people have stepped up and stepped in to help each other and provide extra support to those who need it. 

Kindness can be seen as soft and fluffy, and perhaps underrated as a result. But it is time to think again. Kindness is not soft and fluffy. It is a way of thinking about the world. It is driven by empathy and understanding, and it is demonstrated in what we say and what we think.

Kindness is and must be the driving force for us to tackle structural, economic and health inequalities. If we look at ourselves and other people with kind eyes, and do all we can to demonstrate kindness in our thoughts, deeds and actions it has the potential to be the most powerful force, with untold benefits for individuals, communities and society. 

The MHF survey for Mental Health Awareness Week tells us that 72% of UK adults say it is important we learn to be a kinder society. 63% say that when people are kind to them, it has a positive impact on their mental health and the same number say that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health. 

We don’t need a crystal ball to know the next few years are going to be really tough for individuals, for business, for the social sector and our economy as a whole. There are already and will continue to be considerable changes to both our overall standard and way of living. 

The MHF survey shows people want a kinder society. They know the positive impact it has on them and others. So we have a choice, we can either ignore the lessons from COVID-19 and continue as we were, or we can take energy and hope from the kindness during the pandemic and use that as a basis to look at the world afresh.

As we live through these extraordinary times, the power is with us to decide whether we want to put kindness to ourselves and others at the heart of our new normal. I hope we use Mental Health Awareness Week as a platform to talk about kindness and to bring it front and centre of the national psyche as a real driver for change. 

To find out more about how MHFA England is celebrating MHAW 2020 and why we believe #KindnessMatters, click here.