During the last few months the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions introduced to limit the spread of the virus have put unprecedented pressure on the nation’s mental health.
Women, in particular, have struggled – a Mind survey of over 16,000 people shows that 63 per cent of women report that their mental health deteriorated under lockdown, compared with 51 per cent of men. And Women’s charity Refuge have reported a significant increase in their domestic abuse helpline services during lockdown.
The charities Mind and Agenda are calling for investment in tailored mental health support for women, following a £1.8m Tampon Tax-funded pilot programme of women-only peer support. The Women Side by Side programme has supported around 5,800 women across 71 projects, from Grenfell survivors to women living with HIV, through high-quality women-only peer support.
Peer support is the name given to activities that enable people to use their own experiences to help each other. This might include self-help groups or mentoring.
An evaluation report of Women Side by Side, published in June 2020, shows that women who attended projects experienced less loneliness and isolation than before. They experienced a better connection to friends and neighbours, higher self-esteem, and more positive feelings their social environments. They also learned new skills, felt more able to talk about their mental health, and described feeling more confident. Evidence shows that improvements in all these areas of a person’s life can be an indicator of improved mental health.
Around one in five (19 per cent) women experience a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression. More than one in two women with a mental health problem has experienced some form of violence and abuse. The Women Side by Side projects were led by and aimed at some of the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups, for example, those experiencing mental health problems, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, abuse and violence, family breakdown, offending or a combination of these.
The programme was funded for one year and came to an end in March. Mind and Agenda are now calling for peer support to be recognised, valued and given the investment it needs as we emerge from lockdown.
Jane, 39, London has taken part in the emotional and wellbeing peer support group as part of Women Side by Side and Clean Break, she says: