Coordinating kindness

The current lockdown and pandemic has clearly taken its toll on people’s mental health. The isolation from peers and constant anxiety is exacerbating the conditions already caused by economic inequality. One of the ways we can improve the mental health of ourselves and others is through acts of kindness. This Mental Health Awareness Week Estelle, a recovery worker from Newbury supported housing service, tells us about the service and her community’s acts of kindness.

Since the coronavirus outbreak we have worked with the Newbury Furniture Project who’ve received food donations from local catering companies.

The project is delivering food parcels to the vulnerable, needy families around Newbury and West Berks on its own. Our service already had a good relationship with the project and we had a conversation with them about whether they would be happy for us to collect food direct from them to deliver to our service users. Our most vulnerable, self shielding and low income families received a parcel and it reduced the amount of deliveries the project staff would need to do.

“Making food for the other tenants gave me a sense of purpose”

One of the people we support used the donation to cook some meals for the other 3 tenants in her block of flats. The tenant said “Making food for the other tenants gave me a sense of purpose and helps us maintain a sense of community even with social distancing.”

Our service users have been extremely grateful when they receive a parcel saving them from going out and putting themselves at risk. We have also had a service user whose oven broke. We contacted the furniture project and within days she received a new one. Its been great working along side the project at this time and hope our relationship with them will continue in the future.

Employing new ideas

Laura Whitehouse, Autism and Asperger’s Employment Advisor, at Cambridgeshire Employment Service, talks about how a few kind moments can transform virtual service delivery.

The Covid-19 virus and current lockdown has meant that many of us have had to adapt to a new way of working and connecting with others. This Mental Health Awareness Week find out how our employment services have been continuing to offer support and kindness in a new, more virtual, world.

Before the lockdown, we would meet with the people face to face in our offices and at outreach locations. In these meetings we would help write CVs, complete application forms and give careers advice. We would help people prepare for employer meetings and discuss returns to work.

Then the Covid-19 lockdown hit us and suddenly we were not able to see those we support anymore. We were working remotely form our homes and we thought work would be quieter. However, we were still able to run our service and support those in need. We changed our face to face appointments to telephone calls allowing us to continue to work in a person-centred way.

“By adapting we could continue to help and offer advice on how to manage their mental health.”

At the start of the lockdown, we worked as a team to create a leaflet for service users with guidance on coping with the situation. It offered advice on staying connected, managing your mental health, learning new skills and how we can support them. We also included some signposting options. We have also been encouraging those we support to use the online support community Big White Wall and to connect with their own community.

By adapting we could continue to help and offer advice on how to manage their mental health. We use video conferencing software to support individuals with employer meetings and general guidance sessions. We have been supporting people by connecting with them others in similar situations We have a quiz over Zoom at the end of the week for a little fun. Other times we’ve had Zoom breakfasts and choir rehearsals. We are encouraging people to call their friends and family to stay in touch if they struggle with video calls.

As an employment service we have been able to still work and support those accessing our service. As well as remaining connected as a team through the social interactions on the phone or video conferencing and allowing us to have fun at this time. Stay well, Stay safe.

How have our services adapted to the lock down – Willow House

We spoke to Deborah Webster, service manager at Willow House, on how our crisis houses have continued to provide care despite the lockdown. Willow House took in new referrals and provided high quality recovery care while keeping both staff and guests safe in line with government guidance.

Willow House is a crisis house that has been open for 3 years and it has always been a fast paced service. We offer provide a unique alternative to psychiatric hospital admission and address the needs of people experiencing a mental health crisis. We are proud of the relationships guest build together as peers and with our staff.

Usually people referred to us stay up to a week in our house with their own room and have several sessions a day with a recovery worker. Since the Covid-19 outbreak we have adapted to quickly and moved to a virtual service for guests. We have telephone and video call support 24 hours a day so guests can contact our staff any time they require support. We offer the same catalogue of interventions previously done face to face but in a safe way for both staff and guests.

We practically changed all our processes overnight to accommodate this. For new referrals we use an NHS screening tool to ensure people don’t have symptoms or haven’t been exposed to people with symptoms.

We practically changed all our processes overnight to accommodate this. For new referrals we use an NHS screening tool to ensure people don’t have symptoms or haven’t been exposed to people with symptoms. There are times slots for rooms so guests can still enjoy Willow House while maintaining social distancing. All our staff in the house wear masks, keep two metres apart and can’t spend more than 15 minutes face to face with other people. Some staff now work from home which has taken its toll due the isolation but I think overall we are a stronger, more resilient team.Our recovery workers have taken steps to help people we support with the transition to the new virtual methods. Staff are more casual and conversational over the phone. This new communication style helps guests feel comfortable and engage better with the intervention.

We are commissioned to provide a crisis service for people in Lancashire and we will provide it.

I didn’t think I’d face new challenges such as dogs barking over skype or parrots chirping during a telephone intervention but I think everyone will agree the pandemic has bought a new perspective to everything. We are focusing on our own wellbeing as individuals and a team so we can cope with these tough times. Some staff said they struggled with separating work from home. Together we have agreed that staff do not have to fill the day and that taking time out for themselves during the day is important. Screen time has shot up and people’s homes aren’t offices. Overall everyone has adapted well to the changes and new working routine.

We are commissioned to provide a crisis service for people in Lancashire and we will provide it. For a crisis house to stop during a crisis would be the last thing we want. We assessed the risks to our staff and guests and adapted the service as necessary. The hard work and dedication of the staff to keep the people we support on their recovery journey cannot be overstated.

We want people to know that our they can still access our service as an alternative to hospital admissions. In a time of high anxiety and uncertainty we will be there for those in a mental health crisis.

What does Mental Health Awareness Week mean for us this year?

Mental Health Awareness Week is unsurprisingly a key week for our group of charities. Richmond Fellowship is one of the biggest voluntary sector providers of mental health care in England, supporting over 11,000 people every year through nearly 150 services. As a group we also deliver support to people affected by domestic abuse, substance use and gambling– and we know the role that mental health plays in all this areas.

We are first and foremost service delivery organizations, and in many places our services deliver their support to the people who need it most, often with little fanfare. So Mental Health Awareness Week has always been a great opportunity for our services to talk to local and regional audiences about what they do and why mental health matters. As the week has grown in stature and influence every year, it is helping to remove the stigma around talking about mental health and we always want to be part of that conversation.

Yet this year Mental Health Awareness Week has almost snuck up on us. Perhaps for obvious reasons as we’ve all been working flat out during the pandemic to ensure that our services continue to be there for the people who need it most. Our usual methods of marking the week – through events, stalls, talks, flyers etc – simply aren’t available to us this year. However this is also a time when people are thinking, and talking, about their mental health more than ever.

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation the theme this year is kindness (#KindnessMatters), and the focus is on what sort of society we would like to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. With that pandemic in mind and all consuming, we’ve had to really think about what we want Mental Health Awareness Week to mean for us in 2020.

We are phenomenally proud that throughout the pandemic, thanks to our staff’s hard work, all of our services have remained open.

The more we thought about, the more it was obvious that this needed to be about our staff. Keeping the people we support mentally well and their recovery journey on track has been as big a challenge as keeping people safe from the virus. We are phenomenally proud that throughout the pandemic, thanks to our staff’s hard work, all of our services have remained open. Many staff have had to rapidly adapt how and where they work, and many have continued to go in to work in order to keep residential services open and stable.

All over the country our staff are going above and beyond in helping people on their recovery journeys. Our services are partnering with local foodbanks, community projects and mutual aid groups with signposting and deliveries. Staff have also helped tenants source food and hygiene supplies keeping them safe especially if they are self-shielding. In other services, staff have made special deliveries of cake and cards to the people we support reminding them that we are here for them as a community not just a service. Social distancing may have exacerbated isolated individuals’ situations but our staff have stepped up to the challenge. New virtual groups have been formed in partnership with the people we support. Through Zoom, Whatsapp and telephone our staff are providing vital companionship, prompting conversations and maybe even just saying hello.

Nearly 50% of our staff are frontline Recovery Workers, directly supporting people on their recovery journey. They are the key workers who we are happy to see increasingly recognized by the general public as the pandemic has taken hold. Their kindness has always been apparent to us and the people we support, and we hope that the society that emerges on the other side of this will be one that continues to value and thank them.

We’ll be thanking them especially this week, and putting the spotlight on their hard work. Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week we’ll be talking more about how they’ve adapted to keep services running, their acts of kindness and how they’ve been looking after their own mental health as well as that of the people we support. We hope that by using #mentalhealthawarenessweek to recognize our staff we’ll help you understand the importance of their work – now and well into the future.