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Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety increased by 25% during the pandemic according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and it was a similar story with eating disorders.

 The Royal College of Psychiatrists warned last year that lockdown had created a ‘tsunami’ of people struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders. 

How lockdown and the pandemic affected mental health

“The pandemic caused a massive spike in the numbers of people contacting us for help with eating disorders,” says Claire Reynolds, Director of Finance and Resources at Beat, the UK’s leading charity which supports those with eating disorders. 

“During lockdown, many people’s support networks or control mechanisms had been taken away. There have been countless stories of people relapsing.”

According to Claire, many individuals with eating disorders have ‘safe foods’ – certain foods or brands they trust and are able to eat. But lockdown made it difficult to obtain these foods, let alone access specialist NHS services. 

Beat was there to support from the start

Beat played a crucial role in supporting its beneficiaries during this time.

 In many ways, it was better equipped than other charities to pivot when lockdown and the ‘work from home’ order happened.

It already had the infrastructure in place because services were already run digitally and via telephone lines and many staff were already working remotely. It enabled Beat to ‘ramp things up’ almost immediately. 

“I’m really proud of the fact we didn’t stop at all during the pandemic.” 

“Our telephone helpline is open 365 days a year including Christmas Day and Boxing Day and that’s been consistent throughout,” says Claire. 

Transforming finance and adding to Beat’s resilience

A finance transformation initiative led by Claire two years prior to the pandemic inadvertently helped them achieve this. 

The transformation drive, which focused on improving efficiencies and driving automation, enabled the charity to respond to a rapidly changing covid-19 environment due to streamlined front and back-office processes. 

“Some processes and systems within the finance function were paper-based and rather archaic when I first joined in February 2018,” says Claire. 

“Many things were done manually – documents were either sent in email attachments or by post. And because payments and invoices were done manually, there was a lot of room for human error.” 

By July 2018, barely five months into Claire’s role, she had automated a huge proportion of the finance function, utilising IT to authorise and approve expense claims and make payments. 

“The transformation drive has enabled us to grow and this stood us in good stead when the pandemic hit,” Claire explains. “One of our biggest challenges now is continuing to support the rising numbers of beneficiaries which have tripled since the pandemic. We need to have sufficient manpower as well as efficient and automated back-office functions we can rely on.”

Support portal

As part of its service, the charity runs a telephone helpline service offering 1-to-1 support as well as weekly group sessions. They’ve also recently launched an online support portal for carers and professionals which provides access to training. The portal provides access to clinicians as well as peer support.  

“Mental health is such a growing area and much more support is needed across the sector and healthcare services.”

“There is a real lack of joined-up conversations between different providers and disciplines,” says Claire. “Anecdotal evidence suggests in some cases that you can’t be treated for an eating disorder if you’re waiting for treatment for something else.”

“So as a charity, we play a really important role in supporting people who are stuck in the system.”

Claire’s role as Director of Finance and Resources

Claire’s role is unique in that she works closely across every department including IT, facilities, HR, volunteering, events and governance. And because she’s spent time in the charity’s service areas and visited premises, she’s well aware that the work her team do has a direct impact on the charity’s key aims and objectives. 

It’s about understanding the story behind the numbers and keeping closely connected to service delivery and charity activities. 

For anyone working in finance in the third sector, this is vital, otherwise it can be all too easy to lose sight of the human side of things.

“I want to make a positive difference – that’s one of the reasons I took up the role at Beat.” 

“It’s a great feeling leaving an executive meeting knowing that the financial insight you’ve provided has enabled the board to make some really good positive decisions.”

Claire’s Power Profile

What music empowers her?

“I like strong, upbeat music, ideally something I can sing along to, like Aretha Franklin.” 

Who is her hero?

“I’m inspired by all sorts of people. Especially those who have faced adversity in some way and who have the ability to pick themselves up and go on to do positive things in life.” 

Need some mental health support?

Reach out to Beat if you need any support with the issues raised in this article.

GENCFO live also has a session on mental health, ‘Lonely Leadership: how to avoid and fix burnt out at the top’, with Sanjay Jawa, CFO of Kooth, and Claire Cole, Owner of Movement for Minds. Learn more by clicking the button below: