Events & News

Supporting Mental Health Awareness Week at UKHarvest

Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 (15-21 March 2023) has created a voice for anyone living with or experiencing mental health conditions in UK. According to Mind UK, 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in a given year while 1 in 6 will experience common mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, weekly. UKHarvest, a Chichester-based food waste, education and community engagement charity sees, firsthand, how issues of mental health are impacting communities throughout West Sussex and are, through food redistribution, education and face to face engagement, working in partnership with local health care, advise and wellbeing providers to support rising mental health concerns.

The increased financial pressure on households as the cost-of-living crisis continues, combined with social isolation within vulnerable groups in communities can contribute to reduced mental health. The Food Foundation reported that nearly 1 in 5 households nationally experienced food insecurity in January 2023. As awareness grows of the impact this is having on the country’s mental health, UKHarvest are working to support those in need and offer help through food and connection.

Best known for running and organising Community Food Hubs across West Sussex, UKHarvest creates the opportunity for anyone to access surplus food that would have ended up in landfill. However, these hubs offer more than just food. Developing a sense of community around the hubs has been paramount to their success, and created a comforting safe space for those that may feel isolated, as well as providing delicious ingredients that might otherwise have ended up in the bin. People who are part of a community benefit in many ways and the community hubs offer that regularity of connection between people, health services, advice services and the other local people they may not have met. People can take away so much more than a bag of nutritious food.

Across the country, there are increasing projects that encourage cooking as a means of therapy for those experiencing mental health problems such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and isolation. It is widely thought that the mindful act of cooking can act as a distraction from day-to-day concerns, as well as provide an enormous sense of achievement. Feeding others is another positive result of learning to cook. UKHarvest’s Nourish Hub, located in Hammersmith, London offers face to face cooking courses for residents of the borough. The cooking courses not only bring people together but in learning new skills, participants take away fantastic recipes and a sense of accomplishment that they can share with others. There is also a range of educational information, recipes and videos on UKHarvest’s website that can be accessed by anyone at any time to help encourage people to use redistributed food, eat healthily and share food with one another.

A recent partnership with SproutClub, a national organisation that aims to connect those who wish to grow their own food, and those with land to use, has created a new outlet for aiding and supporting mental health. Thrive UK feel that being around plants can reduce anxiety, isolation and loneliness and caring for plants can improve self-esteem and confidence. UKHarvest and SproutClub are working together to match growers with growing spaces to enable more people to gain access to this therapeutic activity, which also helps produce home grown, healthy food.  

Whilst growing your own food and working with plants greatly improves mental health, eating a balanced and nutritious diet is also important to maintaining brain health and supporting neuropathways. Mental Health Foundation have studied this area extensively and in 2017 released a report identifying that what we eat directly impacts our physical and mental health. Eating regularly and consuming a well-balanced diet helps support our health in all aspects of our lives, and encouraging a healthy diet ensures that the whole body is getting the nutrients it needs to fight illness, be that physical or mental. We are literally happier when we eat well, and as a large portion of the food that is redistributed from UKHarvest is fresh produce. Those using the charity have access to a range of food that they might not have been able to afford or have chosen not to buy out of priority for other goods. 

UKHarvest would not be able to run without the help and support of the growing team of volunteers, who work tirelessly to provide support in the kitchens, at events and in the warehouse, delivering food to the hubs and to other charities around the area. The team of volunteers is vital to the progress of UKHarvest, but in turn provides many opportunities for people to learn new skills and engage in a positive experience. Mental Health Foundation states that volunteering offers a sense of achievement, engagement and purpose with marked improvements in volunteers’ confidence, sense of wellbeing and happiness which reduces levels of anxiety, stress and depression.