Donna Lovell 49, is CEO of mental health charity Swindon MIND, which last week marked Mental Health Awareness Week. Swindon MIND is affiliated to the national MIND charity. Donna lives in North Swindon with her partner, and has two children who are about to begin social work training.

“I REALLY love my job,” said Donna Lovell. “You can see the difference we make to people.

“You get to know them, you see their highs and you see their lows. The staff here are dedicated to what they do.”

Swindon MIND was established some 27 years ago.

It has about 15 staff and works on a one-to-one basis with about 450 people. In addition, there are about 1,000 users of its Be Active programme, which helps people with mental health issues take part in exercise and sport, which is proven to aid mental wellbeing.

The charity runs support groups, craft groups, social groups and learning groups, as well as referring people to other services when necessary. Swindon MIND works with employers, a variety of community organisations and the public at large to dispel ignorance of mental health issues and encourage people to talk about their own situations.

For Mental Health Awareness Week, this work was supplemented by awareness-raising projects such as workshops and a stand at its Sanford House headquarters.

According to Donna, the need for such work is constant, thanks to the pace of life in 2017. Figures suggest that in any given year a quarter of us will be affected by mental health issues. Stress, anxiety and depression are especially prevalent.

“I think there’s a real concern for the future. There are a number of reasons. We live a different way, life’s a lot more stressful, there are cuts in a lot of areas so that puts a lot of stress on people.”

There is stress at work, stress at home when work intrudes, stress associated with accessing benefits and services.

“Some of the core people that we see are reliant on benefits because of their poor mental health, so they get stressed at times of assessments.

“For young people there are the pressures of social media, the pressures of school, the pressures of fitting in and being successful.

“We live a different life than we did 20 or 30 years ago. People have mobile phones – they can be accessed at all sorts of times. Work pressures them more - there is emailing late at night.

“We really do need to start looking after ourselves, caring for ourselves and protecting ourselves more.”

Sometimes people suffer in silence, fearing ridicule, misunderstanding and perhaps harm to their career prospects.

“It needs to be that people feel able and come forward and say they need help.

“I would argue that everybody is affected by mental ill health at some point. I don’t think that anyone doesn’t suffer sometimes from broken sleep from being in stressful situations.”

Donna has been CEO of Swindon MIND since September, having been interim CEO for much of last year.

The elder of two sisters, she is originally from Plymouth; her father was in the Royal Navy and her mother was a post office worker.

Donna attended Richard Jefferies and Oakfield Schools.

“I didn’t do great at school, if I’m honest. I left school without any major qualifications or real direction. I suppose I drifted around several jobs, really, for a number of years. I had my children and worked part time.

“Then, in my thirties, I went back to college and did an access course, which I absolutely loved. I loved learning again. I was determined that I was going to get a degree and go forward with that.”

First came a first class honours degree from the University of Gloucester, and then a doctorate awarded by the University of the West of England. Donna’s thesis, exploring fire-setting by young people, earned an award from the Fire Service College and is referred to by researchers to this day.

Donna said: “When I started the access course I started working for Mencap, working with people with learning disabilities in Swindon. I was looking at social work and psychology as career routes and I chose psychology.

“I liked social work and the idea of doing the work, but I think the actual topic of psychology and understanding people just opened up a whole new world to me which I thought was fascinating.”

After her first degree, Donna began working for Swindon MIND as a support and activity worker at a respite house.

“The idea is to support people before something becomes a crisis, so it’s an intervention, a prevention. Sometimes we also supported people when they were leaving a ward, when they were coming from psychiatric care and went home. It was a two-week break when they were supported by Swindon MIND staff in a place where they could stay the night.

Donna returned to the charity during the last couple of years of her thesis work.

“That was because I believed in the work Swindon MIND was doing. It gave me the chance to work directly with people and put learning into practice.”

In 2011 she became an independent mental capacity advocate, delivering a statutory service helping people with mental health issues deal with matters such as safeguarding, housing and medical treatment.

“It’s about having a voice there when decisions are made. I then went on to do independent mental health advocacy, which is advocacy for people who are detained under the Mental Health Act.”

Donna led the advocacy team at Swindon MIND and went on to develop Swindon MIND Innovation and Learning Exercise – SMILE - whose programme includes delivering programmes to tackle misconceptions about mental health.

She became deputy CEO before standing in as interim CEO, and believes her experience of various roles at the organisation stands her in good stead.

“It’s about the person, it’s about their needs, it’s about the support structures that are around them and how we can support individuals. Each person that comes to Swindon MIND will be offered a wellbeing co-ordinator who will work with that person to find out what their needs are, what we can provide or what other services they might need. We sometimes signpost to other services – but that person will always know we are here.

“If people are suffering or in need of support, we’re here.”

The Swindon MIND website is