Mental health awareness project The Bench UK launches in Norfolk

A new mental health awareness project called, The Bench UK, has been launched in Norfolk and is encouraging people to engage with friends and family, to talk!
The project highlights the experiences of people living through the social isolation periods of Covid- 19; focussing particularly on mental health.

Andy Watts, The Bench UK’s Founder, worked as an Urgent Care Practitioner in Lincolnshire throughout Covid-19. He recalls conversations with colleagues anticipating a surge in mental health cases; “Covid-19 was a particularly challenging time for everyone, but the restrictions on our social inter- actions, had a dramatic affect on people’s coping mechanisms. Social inclusion is important for most of us, that’s why we make friends, join groups or take up a new hobby; to meet people and talk. The importance of this should never be over-looked. We need to talk.” That’s exactly what The Bench UK encourages to do, talk!

Mr Watts admits that there were times he struggled with his own mental health during Covid-19 and it wasn’t until he started having social engagement again, that he realised how much he had been affected. “I missed seeing and talking to my friends. As the weeks passed, I felt disconnected from them and bottled-up my emotions.The thought of eventually breaking the ‘2 meter distance rule’ to have face-to-face conversations again, seemed implausible.So when the restrictions lifted, I forced myself to sit on a bench and chat to people again! It became a talking point in itself. I would drop my son off at school, then head to ‘The Bench.’”

In the months that followed Mr Watts’s anxiety reduced as his social interactions became more comfortable. For him and others, talking had become a form of healing.

The Bench UK are publishing videos they have made of people talking about their experiences of Covid-19. The examples of resilience is a common theme. Some people even managing to turn the horrors of Covid-19 into positive lifestyle-changes.The conversations are unscripted and are slowly being released on YouTube. And, yes of course, they are all filmed on a bench.

Stuart Smith features in Episode 1. He reflects on the social isolation he experienced when he started working from home. It had a big affect on his mental health. “I’d always worked in a busy office where we all interacted with each other during the day. When this was removed, it was an odd feeling. At first I thought being at home was fun, but as time went by, i felt myself withdrawing from people and my family. Eventually I went to see my GP, who diagnosed me with clinical depression and issued me with medication.”

Mr Smith admitted that the isolation from his friends and brother played a big part in his depression. “Not being able to see my friends or brother, was dreadful, I didn’t have an outlet to talk and make sense of things. I’m now one of those guys that calls people for a chat and makes plans to see people. Sharing my story with Andy and The Bench UK, felt like a really positive thing for me and has defi- nitely made me appreciate my mates more.”

In addition to the videos, 100 benches are also being embedding around the United Kingdom as a symbol to encourage people to reengage with others and have healthy conversations. The first two benches are currently being restored and planned to be donated to a community facility, in June. “Forming a mental health awareness project, based on my experiences seemed a natural step. We’ve been overwhelmed by people’s response and donations. The more support we receive, the more people we can reach out to.”

If you would like to share your story about how your mental health was impacted by Covid-19, The Bench UK would like to hear from you.

Full details of The Bench UK can be found on their website;