A Sunderland graduate has helped support the mental health and wellbeing of more than 5,000 children and families across the UK since launching her social enterprise during the lockdown.
Drawing on her own experiences of mental health, as well as responding to the impact of the first Covid-19 lockdown, Rebecca Hetherington set up Mindstars CIC, which aims to tackle the rising mental health crisis among children, with professional support.
Rebecca graduated with a Foundation Degree in Counselling at the University of Sunderland in 2015, before working in NHS Mental Health Services, improving access to psychological therapies. The mum-of-two wanted to use her experiences working with patients of all ages to design a service that would support children, specifically for those aged 4–11 years, Key stages 1 and 2, and their families.
Joining forces with her life-long friend Marisa May, the pair set about applying for grants to launch Mindstars during the first lockdown, a time both women knew how great the need would be with an escalation of youngsters struggling with their mental health, alongside a huge demand for current services.
Within weeks of launching their proactive work, they were making an impact, helping thousands of families through their online community network, supporting schools, sharing toolkits on dealing with mental health, and distributing more than 9,000 children’s free mental health activity books.
Rebecca, Mindstars Founder and CEO, says: “When the pandemic hit last year, we leapt into action with reports of an increasing number of families facing poverty and a rising mental health crisis. We realised our social enterprise concept could not wait any longer, it was time to act.
“It was also my own experiences with mental health in my youth that led me to my career as a therapist. I wanted to help others who struggled with the same issues I had as a child. Had I had the tools back then that I have now, things would have been a lot easier.
“Mindstars strives to proactively educate and support children in positive steps to take charge of their wellbeing and avoid long-term mental health problems.”
Mindstar’s director and illustrator Marisa, who has her own lived experience of mental health, added: “The response to our work has been incredible, and to date we’ve been able to support more than 5,000 families through our volunteers and professional support within our community.
“Because of the ever-growing pressures of life in a world which is so fast paced, and the new anxieties that have risen following Covid-19, sadly many more children are at risk of developing long-term mental health problems.
“It has never been more important to address these issues. We are already seeing the effects of this pandemic on the children in the communities where we work. It is vital they are put at the heart of recovery plans.”
Mindstars continues to grow and has been awarded £10,000 through the National Lottery Community Fund, the team has launched their Journey Through Space & Mind mental health activity book, being delivered to 9,000 children in the North East for free. Last September they were able to deliver wellbeing packages to food banks in the region, with funding through Tesco’s Bags of Help, extending their reach in delivering vital Covid-19 wellbeing support to 500 vulnerable children and families living in poverty.
There is also an educational mental health app in the pipeline, which encourages children to take the lead on their mental health journey.
Once the current lockdown is over, Rebecca, Marissa and their team will be able to welcome families to their new base in Albion House, West Percy Street, North Shields
Asked about her University of Sunderland experience, Rebecca, who is originally from South Shields and now lives with her family in North Shields, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Sunderland and would recommend the course to anyone interested in this vital area of work. I got so much support from my tutors especially when I fell pregnant in my first year and had a baby boy Joel, in my second year. I think without their support I would have struggled.”
Dr Floor Christie-de Jong, senior lecturer in Public Health, said: “Health inequalities exist for our children and young people in the North East and they are at risk of poor mental wellbeing. Initiatives like these aimed at improving children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing are fantastic and much needed.
“How wonderful to see that this innovative and important enterprise is founded by a University of Sunderland graduate”.
For more information about Mindstars CIC visit https://www.mindstars.co.uk
Mindstar users’ comments
“Our school in South Shields received delivery of free children’s mental health resource books from Mindstars, A Journey Through Space and Mind. Amazing quality books with a variety of engaging and useful activities for children to complete that will support their wellbeing and mental health. Thanks, Mindstars.” – Catherine, Teacher
“The boys loved the Mindstars activity book. I put them down on the dining table and left the room and when I got back they had started filling them out without any prompt from me. They loved the variety of activities and both my six year old and 10 year old were able to complete them independently – brilliant across the age groups. It gave us a great context in which to discuss issues such as their worries etc. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks so much. So great to see a company that is trying to tackle children’s mental health in a socially inclusive and subsidised way. Often classes and resources for kids can be too expensive to be accessible by the people that really need it the most.” Cath – Parent