Why did we pick kindness as the theme?

Why kindness is the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 - and why it could be the most important week we’ve ever run…. 

Last week, I waited in a socially distanced queue outside the supermarket as the rain started to fall.

One of the staff noticed we were getting wet. He scurried away to find a pile of umbrellas, carefully disinfected the handles and passed them out with a smile. To my surprise, my eyes started to well up. At a time when I felt alone, I suddenly felt connected.  

If I asked you the last time you gave or experienced kindness, you would tell me stories of when you felt moved, protected, held, seen, loved. 

Next month we will kick off Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May)  focusing on the power and potential of kindness. We think it could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic - with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus.  

Why kindness?  

We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.  

Celebrate kindness

But we also want to shine a light on the ways that kindness is already flowering at this time. We have seen it in the dancing eyes of 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore  as he walked his garden to raise money for the NHS and in the mutual aid groups responding to local needs. We want that kindness to spread further in every community in the UK. 

Finally, we want to use the week to explore the sort of society we would like to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.  

Kindness and Mental Health  

Kindness is defined by doing something towards yourself and others, motivated by genuine desire to make a positive difference.  We know from the research that kindness and our mental health are deeply connected. The research shows that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging. It helps reduce stress, brings a fresh perspective and deepens friendships. Kindness to ourselves can prevent shame from corroding our sense of identity and help boost our self-esteem.  Kindness can even improve feelings of confidence and optimism. 

Kindness is an act of courage

But kindness is an intrinsically risky endeavour. It can risk us looking foolish or being taken advantage of, which is why we sometimes retreat. To receive or to give kindness is an act of courage. We want to use Mental Health Awareness Week to support each other to take that brave step and harness the benefits for both giver and receiver.  

A kinder society?  

We have a once in a generation opportunity not only during but also following this pandemic for a reset and re-think about what kind of society we want to emerge from this crisis.

Our own reports and others such as Sir Michael Marmot’s 10 years On report reveal how inequality is rising in our society and its harmful effects on our health. Life expectancy is falling for the poorest for the first time in 100 years. As child poverty rises, children and young people in the poorest parts of our country are two to three times  more likely to experience poor mental health than those in the richest. After the 2008 credit crunch it was the most vulnerable in our communities who experienced the severest consequences of austerity, with devastating effects on their mental and physical health. This not the hallmark of a kind society. We must not make the same mistakes after this pandemic.  

Applied kindness could have a transformative impact on our schools, places of work, communities and families. As the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said, now is a time to put values above valuations. We must seize this time to shape a society that tips the balance in favour of good mental health, for all of us, but especially for those who are most vulnerable.  

Kindness Matters – what you can do 

During Mental Health Awareness Week in May, we will release new data to reveal how many of us experience kindness in the UK and a summary of the latest evidence about its important mental health benefits. There will be tips, fundraising ideas and stories that we hope will inspire you.  

We know that one act of kindness can lead to many more. This is the type of community action that we need to inspire others as we discover our connection to each other and extend kindness to ourselves.  

During Mental Health Awareness Week, we are asking you to do three things:  

  • Reflect on an act of kindness. Share your stories and pictures (with permission) of kindness during the week using #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
  • Use our resources in your family, school, workplace and community to join with thousands in practising acts of kindness to yourself and others during the week 
  • Share your ideas on how you think we could build a kinder society that would support our mental health using #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

You can tag us across social media – we would love to see what you get up to: 

Facebook: @mentalhealthfoundation 

Twitter: @mentalhealth 

Instagram: @mentalhealthfoundation  

No act of kindness is ever wasted. Please join us this Mental Health Awareness Week and make kindness matter.