By Eleanor Segall Mandelstam
The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is Kindness, to oneself and to others. When we struggle with mental illness, it can be hard to be kind to ourselves and our self esteem can plummet. It is particularly hard too due to the global Coronavirus pandemic and having restrictions on daily life.
I know this all too well as I have lived with bipolar 1 disorder since the age of 16, I am now 31. I also struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, with suspected PTSD symptoms for which I am in therapy for. I have lived with social anxiety and panic for a long time and it worsened after I became manic and hit crisis point in 2014.
I was hospitalised for my bipolar and while in hospital, I was sent cards from friends and family which brightened my hospital room and made me feel less alone, with their kind words. In group therapy, we also made handmade cards to give to loved ones. The glow of happiness it gave me always stayed with me.
Thankfully, in 2020, my bipolar has stabilised on medication and therapy, and I recovered in time. Yet, when Coronavirus hit the UK in March, no one was prepared for the mental health effects that lockdown could bring. Additionally, we already live with a mental health epidemic that seems to be worsening worldwide.
As part of the growing mental health community on Twitter which is supportive, I put out a tweet in March asking if anyone would like a free handmade card by post to cheer people up under lockdown. The response was overwhelming. In 24 hours, I had about 20 card requests from people I had never met- from Scotland to Kent!
Some were struggling with their mental health, others were carers for elderly family or children with autism, one person requested a card for a widowed relative and many requested for those hospitalised due to coronavirus . Another requested to cheer up her own children under lockdown.
The cards seemed to unite people and I enjoyed making them with glitter card, coloured card, stickers and pens and going out for my daily walk to the postbox to post them. People were happy to receive the cards and tweeted me to say thank you. It was such an amazing feeling to spread some happiness.
I decided to call the project Corona Cards as it was started due to the virus! It has grown faster than I ever thought it would. We are now a team of 5- with Becky Johnson, Donna Davidson, Abigail Schischa and Emma Gordon on board. Becky came on board via Twitter and the others were people I already knew. Our card-makers are talented- Becky and Emma are experienced at making handmade cards, Donna is a calligrapher, Abi is an artist and they have turned their hands to making beautiful bespoke cards. They also have demanding day jobs and volunteer for free!
We recently partnered with a nursing home in Manchester to send cards to them for elderly and lonely residents with help from a friend, Debby. We were also featured in Metro.co.uk, the Telegraph and on Heart Breakfast Radio show and nominated for an every day heroes award by New York newspaper The Forward!
We began to get global requests too- from as far away as Canada and Nigeria! We can send those cards by email to any country globally.
Card designs can be bespoke and vary from inspirational quotes, themed cards, animals and butterflies, rainbow and glitter hearts and more.
I decided to set up a Twitter and Instagram for the project and we now send out about 10 cards a day, with regular requests. You can request a handmade Corona Card for free via our social media but we also ask that if you can afford, to donate to a mental health charity to help their work.
The project was set up to help alleviate loneliness and spread joy and in the theme of this week- kindness. I know what it is like to feel lonely and we hope that we can brighten up the lives of those struggling with their mental health in lockdown and beyond.