Tackling the mental health pandemic through access to digital services

Blog Thor Leaman
Thor Leaman
Project & Technical Coordinator, Clarion Futures
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Problems with mental health have a widespread impact in society with data from Mind (opens new window) showing that 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England with 1 in 6 experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems across society resulting in the worsening of pre-existing inequalities amongst groups including: Women, people with disabilities and those living in social housing (Mind (opens new window)). Findings from the Clarion Impacts of COVID-19 longitudinal study, which is tracking the impacts of the pandemic on a sample of over 700 residents backs-up these conclusions. 39% of respondents with a disability reported that their mental health had got worse in the six months between June and December 2021, compared to 21% of non-disabled residents.  Likewise, 32% of females reported that their mental health had worsened, compared to 20% of men (link (opens new window), p.13). 

The mental health impact of the pandemic was particularly evident at the start of the first lockdown with over half of adults saying their mental health had gotten worse (Mind (opens new window)).  Research by The Mental Health Foundation (opens new window) has shown that while anxiety about the pandemic decreased from March 2020 to February 2021, feelings of loneliness have increased. Findings from our longitudinal study reinforce this view. During the first lockdown, half of respondents said that they never felt lonely. By the time of the second lockdown, just a quarter held this view. Between our first two surveys, the proportion of residents who said they felt lonely often or always rose from 8% to 13%. This is likely to result in reduced resilience and is particularly concerning given that feelings of loneliness have been increasing for already vulnerable groups such as those with worsened mental and physical health due to the pandemic (Clarion (opens new window)).

Given the impact of the pandemic on mental health, as well as the wider need for improved provision of mental health support, Clarion introduced the #meinmind wellbeing programme to offer residents additional help with common mental health problems.

The #meinmind service gives residents access to the Togetherall platform an online community where members can anonymously support each other and share their problems at any time of day. The platform also includes self-guided learning materials and self-assessments on a range of topics.

By providing an anonymous digital tool, the #meinmind service resolves some of the common challenges in the provision of support with mental health:

  1. Residents may not feel able to share their problems with those around them whether it be friends and family or Clarion staff who are providing support. Providing an anonymous platform enables safe sharing without judgement.
  2. Providing access to an online platform reduces barriers to access, especially during the pandemic when face-to-face service provision is much more challenging to safely organise. Use of a digital approach means access is available from home.
  3. The use of an online platform also means the service is available to residents when they need it at any time of day and can flexibly meet their needs rather than providing a rigid time or course structure. There is also no wait for access to the service, once online signup is complete access begins immediately.

We initially launched the service by supporting referrals from our Tenancy Sustainment team and have seen residents starting to access and benefit from the service, getting flexible support when they need it.

We are now expanding the service to enable access for residents through self-referral and through more of our support teams within Clarion, increasing the support offering available to those residents who may be struggling and looking for some extra help.

This is part of a package of initiatives to improve mental health and reduce social isolation, including our 'Lend an Ear' befriending service, which will help elderly and vulnerable residents benefit from a weekly or fortnightly friendly chat with someone on the phone or online through a video call.

The easing of lockdown is welcome and we hope that it will result in broad improvements in mental health but for the Clarion residents who are struggling whether due to the pandemic or for unrelated reasons the #meinmind service offers quick, anonymous access to start getting support.

If you found this of blog interest, check out other relevant resources on housing and mental health curated by the Housing LIN on our dedicated topic page.

And, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, join us at our acclaimed HAPPI Hour webinar this Thursday, 13 May at 4pm, to find out more about housing, mental health and wellness.

Lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can support you develop your housing for older people strategic vision and/or operational plans to meet the future accommodation needs of older adults, please email us at: info@housinglin.org.uk


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