Mental health and Covid: Will public awareness turn into money or action?

Painting of a man's face with a tired expression, closed eyes and furrowed brow, against a grey background

Mental health and Covid: Will public awareness turn into money or action?

The events of the past year have brought mental health to the forefront of national conversation. We explore the profile of mental health after Covid-19 with data from our research with the general public.
Rita Skanis

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was probably more important than ever. The public’s concern about their own mental health reached a high point in March this year when we ran the sixth wave of our Covid-19 research, almost one year exactly since the pandemic began in the UK. No wonder, the past year has been challenging for many and while some UK residents enjoyed the relative ease of baking banana bread and working from the comfort of their homes, not all were so lucky. There is no denying that lockdown fatigue finally started to creep in.

Mental health charities have been very central to the pandemic response. They mobilised quickly enough to ensure uninterrupted provision of their existing services and made themselves available to thousands of new beneficiaries who would come to require their support for the first time in their lives as a result of loss, anxiety, isolation, and a multitude of other reasons. All that while continuing to run awareness and sensitivity campaigns and advocate for the rights of people with mental health problems. But have their efforts gone unnoticed by the public?

We ran a series of public focus groups in Ireland and Britain in October-November last year where we asked our research participants to talk about the key societal issues or areas of their lives that they have been concerned about over the past year. The general consensus was that domestic abuse, child welfare and mental health are the concerns to be prioritised because of the effects of the pandemic.

“Mental health has just skyrocketed through the roof.”

Focus Group Participant

Similarly, our Charity Awareness Monitor findings show that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s mental health is one of the top three recognised issues we prompt, tested alongside the likes of plastic pollution and modern-day slavery. 1 in 4 also reported being concerned about their mental health which was up from under a fifth of the public just two years earlier. That concern was especially high among younger groups, understandably preoccupied with the looming prospect of recession and overall uncertainty about their future.

Our research also suggests that nearly two thirds of the public in Britain are either personally affected or know someone who is affected by mental health conditions. It almost feels foolish to suggest that half of the population would still not be able to name any charities working in the area of mental health. Yet, this figure could tell us more than any score that specific brands are getting. It clearly demonstrates the disconnect within the public minds between the seriousness of mental health during the pandemic and those institutions who played a pivotal role in establishing this urgency in the first place.

“Mental health awareness is very much prominent and so it should be, but I have not actually seen any kind of [prominent] charities as such.”

Focus Group Participant

That is not to say that the public are fully unaware of the sector landscape. Over the years of our tracking, the number of people mentioning Mind spontaneously has nearly doubled, earning it the place within the top 10 most mentioned unprompted charity brands. That is a very impressive result, given that most of the brands that appear in this category usually only grow (or decline) within the 1-5% window. Another brand worth mentioning is one my colleague Tim referred to in a recent blog – CALM, who have been very successful at engaging younger audiences and considerably increasing their awareness figures as a result. A similar suicide prevention charity in Ireland, Pieta, has also seen its mentions doubling though in a much shorter time period. Only 1 in 10 named them as the first charity that comes to mind just before Covid – a figure that grew to nearly a quarter in May last year. Whilst they did not necessarily manage to retain this and saw their awareness going down again in December, their “Darkness Into Light” campaign continues to be nearly universally recognised and has stayed at the top of our Irish Charity Engagement Monitor campaign awareness list.

It is tricky, but not impossible, to connect the dots between mental health issues and charities. A lot could also depend on the groups that charities are hoping to help – are we talking middle-aged men, young people or minority ethnic and LGBT audiences, whose level of concern about mental health is higher than that of the general public, according to our under-researched audiences surveys? Regardless, it might take many years (and thousands of ££) for a charity to make itself heard in a very busy and saturated sector. Yet the opportunity for mental health charities is there, bigger than ever before, which should hopefully help them save a bit of both.

If you'd like to find out more about our research with the General Public in the UK and Northern Ireland, you can download a briefing pack below, or get in touch with

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