Covid-19 Action Fund winners: mental health

The Covid-19 Action Fund provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. Hundreds of pandemic projects nationwide are being run or assisted by Churchill Fellows, using the international expertise they gained during their Fellowships overseas. Here are the Action Fund recipients working on mental health issues.

December 2020 awards

Jaccaidi Dyer: connecting young women with emotional support services


The pandemic has seen a rise in gender-based violence, predominantly affecting young women. The charity Refuge reported a 700% increase in traffic to their website during lockdown, whilst a Karma Nirvana study, the charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse, has reported a 162% rise in caseloads and a 400% rise in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women experiencing emotional abuse during the pandemic. Many of these women have been unable to access the emotional and mental health support they need, exacerbated by the added pressure on services at this time as well as a lack of information around support options available.

Jaccaidi Dyer has a background in tackling global gender-based violence, and she leads the 'For Her' project as a tech for good initiative.

She will use her grant to launch For Her, an online platform that makes it easier for young women to access a range of free mental health, specialist support and wellbeing services in one empowering click. She hopes to supply free subscriptions to premium mental health apps for more than 200 young women who are stuck on counselling waiting lists or unable to access support. Additionally, she plans to create free digital resources that reach broader audiences, including an online retreat for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women, an art therapy video series, and mindfulness and mental health podcasts delivered in partnership with charities, therapists and coaches. Furthermore, she aims to support charities to use new technology tools to aid their in-service delivery and outreach, so that they can reach young women who are marginalised or vulnerable. Jaccaidi's Churchill Fellowship to the Caribbean in 2018 explored young women’s cyber-activism for tackling gender-based violence.

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Jacqui Jobson: supporting the mental health of LGBTQ communities


Recent research from University College London and Sussex University has shown that the pandemic has provoked a mental health crisis among the LGBTQ community. The report found that 69% of respondents suffered depressive symptoms, rising to about 90% of those who had experienced homophobia or transphobia, and that 10% felt unsafe at home. With increased isolation and the closing of LGBTQ safe spaces due to lockdown, many people have been unable to connect with their peers or forced to live in a family home with strained relationships and threats of violence.

Jacqui Jobson is a human rights campaigner and consultant from Newcastle.

She will use her grant to raise awareness of the impact of Covid-19 on LGBTQ people, and of the mental health needs of this community during the pandemic and beyond. She will produce and disseminate culturally competent good-practice guidance for healthcare professionals and mental health services on how to support LGBTQ communities. Additionally, she will deliver advice and training via social media and webinars. Jacqui's Churchill Fellowship to Australia and Canada in 2017 explored advocacy approaches to mental health inequalities amongst the LGBTQ community, and was supported by the Mental Health Foundation.

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Kieron Kirkland: developing AI mental health therapy


Official statistics show that almost one in five adults are likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus crisis, almost double the number prior to the pandemic. Yet during the peak of the pandemic, referrals to mental health services dropped 30% as people tried to ease the burden on the health service and sought to avoid catching the virus. Many people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, have not been able to access mental health support during this time, and the British Medical Association reports that the crisis risks accentuating existing inequality of access for vulnerable groups in society.

Kieron Kirkland, from Fareham in Hampshire, is the Product Manager and UX Lead for an award-winning artificial intelligence digital health company, the co-founder of CAST (Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology) and a trained cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist.

He will use his grant to support the technical development and prototyping of an AI therapist using Natural Language Processing technologies, in order to provide cost-effective and equitable mental health therapy at scale. As a result, more people will be able to access mental health support online and the demands on NHS staff will be reduced. Whilst AI is transforming the medical field, it is not much used in mental health and there is currently very little development on AI talking therapies in the UK. Kieron's innovative project will involve developing a prototype service, undertaking user research, and then developing and scaling the work. Kieron's Churchill Fellowship to Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda in 2015 explored how technology can help address social challenges.

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Mary Smith: supporting the mental health of rural communities 


People with mental health problems who live in isolated rural communities face difficulties in accessing support, due to long travel times and few available services. This has been heightened during the pandemic by lockdown restrictions and increased demands on NHS staff. Around 12,500 of the GP-registered population in North Lancashire and South Cumbria have a declared mental health issue, and waiting lists for talking therapy can be as long as 24 weeks. 50% of those referred do not engage beyond their first appointment.

Mary Smith, from Kendal in Cumbria is the CEO of Growing Well, a rural mental health charity using therapeutic farming, which offers an alternative to talking therapy. During the pandemic, Growing Well has experienced a notable increase in referrals.

Mary will use her grant to expand the charity by working towards opening a second location in Cumbria. The funded stage of the replication will involve meeting with landowners, funders and clients, in order to develop a sustainable business and income model and identify a site. Therapeutic farming allows volunteers to share tasks, learn new skills, become part of a community and connect with the outdoors in a Covid-safe environment. 100% of Growing Well's volunteers say that its unique approach of activity, training and support has had a positive impact on their mental health. Mary's Churchill Fellowship to Norway and the USA in 2019 explored international best practice in care farming and was supported by The Prince's Countryside Fund.

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Neil Morris: preparing people with poor mental health for work


In June 2020, the mental health charity Mind published research showing that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. The Mental Health Foundation evidenced in July 2020 that Covid-19 has affected this situation with approximately half of the population (49%) having felt anxious or worried. Poor mental health can be debilitating, disruptive and can often lead to social exclusion as peer support is not always available.

Neil Morris is a Community Leader in South Yorkshire.

He will use his grant to develop ' Transformation', an online training project for people who have experienced poor mental health to equip them to become volunteer facilitators in their community.  The training will help them to run locally based community activities but also to cascade their knowledge to others. In this way, a culture of volunteer-led mutual peer support will be created, aiding both their own recovery, their interaction with society and also benefitting the community. The programme will focus on hard to reach groups and deprived areas, primarily in North Sheffield and South Barnsley, and will be designed to be both scalable and replicable in order to benefit other communities across the UK. Volunteering was Neil's way back into the world of work following an episode of poor mental health and had a hugely positive experience on his own wellbeing. He hopes the programme will do the same for others. Neil's Churchill Fellowship to Australia and New Zealand in 2008 explored the rehabilitation of men with mental health problems. 

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June 2020 awards

Alison Jordan: supporting people bereaved by suicide


Research shows that people bereaved by suicide can have a particularly complex set of feelings and can experience additional struggles and dilemmas in trying to resolve their grief. This has been heightened during the pandemic, when life has become unpredictable and support, human connection, normal funerals and rituals are impossible or restricted in some way.

Alison Jordan from Exmouth is the founder of Pete's Dragons, a suicide bereavement support charity which operates across Devon, set up in memory of her brother Pete. They have been operational throughout the pandemic, supporting people online, but the increased complexities of the situation require a new approach.

Alison will use her grant to develop and roll out a therapeutic programme for prolonged grief disorder (PGD) to people bereaved by suicide during the pandemic. The programme is based on a model produced by The Centre for Complicated Grief in the USA, which Alison visited during her Churchill Fellowship in 2019. Alison and her team at Pete's Dragons will redesign the model, a research-backed 16-week therapeutic intervention programme for PGD, for their beneficiaries and the UK audience. They will trial the programme once the lockdown restrictions have lifted, initially with 14 beneficiaries, before evaluating its impact and rolling it out more widely.  Alison's Churchill Fellowship explored innovative approaches to suicide prevention and suicide bereavement in the USA and was supported by the John Armitage Charitable Trust and the Samaritans. 

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Dan Trevor: protecting young people at risk of self-harm and suicide


The number of teenage suicides in England and Wales increased by 67 per cent between 2010 and 2017. Office of National Statistics figures show that, in the last year alone, 187 under-19s took their own lives, compared with 162 the year before - a rise of 15 per cent. The current lockdown is likely to worsen these statistics.

Dan Trevor is a psychotherapist from Denbighshire in North Wales, who specialises in working with children and young people via Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) sessions. DBT provides training in managing emotions, navigating crisis situations and resisting urges to self-harm and suicide, and is particularly effective in helping chronically suicidal and self-injuring young people.

Dan and his colleagues usually deliver DBT skills training face to face, but under the current social distancing restrictions, they have not been able to do this. He will use the grant initially to train six therapists to transition existing DBT groups into online virtual meetings. Therapists would be trained in adapting their face to face skills in assessment of clients online, managing risk and safeguarding, legal issues, insurance, security and data protection implications, so that they feel equipped to continue supporting their existing clients. Additionally, Dan will seek partnerships with schools, in order to help new clients. Finally he will establish a permanent online service that will continue beyond the lockdown, in order to help young people who are socially anxious or lack the confidence to attend DBT in person. Dan's Churchill Fellowship investigated mindfulness interventions for children and young people in the USA and was supported by the Mental Health Foundation.

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Evelyn Sharp: providing online trauma therapy for key workers


Key workers providing treatment, care and emergency response on the frontline are at high risk of acute stress, PTSD and burnout during the current Covid-19 crisis. Many of these key workers, particularly carers and care home staff, are low-paid and cannot access private trauma therapy, which averages £55-110 per session. At the same time, the current nature of the crisis means that many will not fulfil the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, which would give access to free NHS treatment.

Counsellor and psychotherapist Evelyn Sharp, from Brighton & Hove, will use her grant to provide free online trauma therapy to keyworkers who are experiencing acute stress linked to Covid-19.  These free sessions will be available to any keyworker across the UK - but low-paid keyworkers will be prioritised. Each person will receive between 4-8 sessions. Additionally, Evelyn will share her learnings, on delivering mental health interventions during a mass trauma, with her colleagues and professional networks. Evelyn's Churchill Fellowship to the USA explored the use of the performing arts to support psychological recovery from trauma.

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