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Before the current health crisis, a typical day for me would have started with a cup of tea (the first of many!), a check on emails and then usually a discussion with my colleague (Peter) about any current or outstanding issues in the service.
Members begin to arrive very soon after the door is opened and we always make sure to say hello to everyone individually and make them feel welcome. We also try to find an opportunity to have a brief informal chat with each person individually at some point in the day. This could be over a cup of tea, lunch or as we do an activity together although all members will often want to speak to staff on a 1:1 basis for support with a particular challenge that they may be facing.
Each day, we usually facilitate some kind of meaningful activity that helps promote the overall wellbeing of those who get involved. Some examples of the activities we have currently been doing include our ongoing music group and singalong sessions, Women’s group, Anxiety Management group, Gym group, weekly visits from a PAT (Pets As Therapy) dog, quizzes, cookery sessions, Boccia, art and craft sessions and group walks. We have also had external organisations and individuals who have come in to deliver sessions or programmes such as the Ulster Museum who delivered the “Live Well” project, “The Music Rooms” who helped members to produce a piece of music as a group and “Casey’s Creatures” who visited us with some of his fascinating animals from his sanctuary. We also had a personal fitness trainer and a trainee art therapist ready to offer their services to our members but coronavirus has put that on hold for now! In between these things we always have support plans to review and update to ensure that all of our members are being supported in the best way possible.
Now of course things are VERY different as all of these wonderful activities can no longer be facilitated.
Although we DO continue to support all of our members over the phone, and some have even requested that we contact them every day, this has its own challenges and limitations. It lacks the face to face contact for instance which, for a CMHW, is often useful as it can reveal more about a person’s mental state than words can. It can also be tricky to keep peoples spirits up over the phone at the minute when there seems to be only one topic of conversation (lockdown!) and trying to do so can be an intense and tiring experience for staff.
While every one of our members have said how much they are missing being able to attend they have also expressed such a deep gratitude for the phone calls that we make to them. Knowing that it has made a real difference to their day is what makes it so worthwhile for me.
We have had to be more creative than ever to think of other ways that we can reach out to our members and we have used a few ideas that have been received really well so far.
I made up Mental Health Wellness Packs for example posted them out to each of our members. These contained various bits and bobs including signposting information, tips and inspiration for maintaining good mental health in these times and some pampering treats! As someone who has dabbled in different crafts over the years (jack of all trades and master of none I can assure you!) I was also able to make up some card making kits for those of our members who are missing this kind of activity in the service. These are being posted out too.
My colleague Peter has also been supporting our musicians by sourcing and providing suitable new pieces of music for them to learn and posting these to them. Also, some of the other members enjoy a good crossword and he has been doing these over the phone with them too.
My main concern at the minute would be for the wellbeing of our members. Unfortunately I am already aware that a number of them have been struggling a lot more than usual and I worry that what we are currently doing is not enough to keep them well, even though I know the limitations are beyond our control.
My hope however would be that our members will come out of this safe and well and will have learned something about their own capacity for resilience which will serve them well in future.