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Coping with mental health through Covid-19

A whole new approach to supporting clients in Devon


When Covid-19 struck and the UK as a whole was forced into lockdown, here at Independent Living West Country we found ourselves having to rethink our entire approach to helping clients suffering from acute mental health conditions in Devon.

Lockdown has been tough for everyone, but none more so than those whom we support daily on their journey towards independent living.

While many of our clients appreciate the threat that Coronavirus represents, others struggle to grasp the gravity of Covid-19. This has caused enhanced stress in those already coping with extreme anxiety, ADHD or conditions such as schizophrenia. Avoiding a downward spiral leading to mental disintegration, and the potential significant consequences that brings with it, has been our daily job.

Previous to Covid-19, our clients were used to a very hands-on, one-to-one approach adopted by our caring and dedicated team of support-workers. Clients would receive much needed help in their homes, including assistance with tasks such as household cleaning, laundry, shopping, washing-up and coping with benefits. More than just a reliable, friendly face, our team play a vital role in our clients’ daily lives, reminding them to take their medication, to look after themselves and to keep a positive mental attitude.

Overnight, the way we were able to support our clients had to change. This was no easy task, particularly among those less able to look after themselves; those who rely on our trusted support workers day in, day out.

Building trust takes time, particularly with those suffering from extreme apprehension or a general distrust of people that they don’t know. As a result, a number of our clients struggled to comprehend why the virus should affected them by causing the withdrawal home-visit support. Having taken so long to build up trusted relations, there was a real danger that some of our clients would feel abandoned, even if that were the furthest thing from the truth.

So, we had to forge a new path. A new way of working that gave our clients all the support they needed, but in a different way to what they were used to.

So, while our staff could no longer go into the homes of our clients in the way they once had, we had to find a new balance. A new way of helping our clients.

Fear of shopping is something that we have long helped our clients cope with. In the main, we accompany clients to give them confidence and to help them through the process. Following lockdown, that switched to personal shopping and dropping, delivering shopping to our clients to protect them from contracting the virus, and to provide a friendly face that they know and recognise. This level of doorstep distanced contact has been invaluable, creating a different kind of normality.

In a world where fear and concerns about social distancing has consumed all our lives, our brilliant team have stepped up to the mark to help our clients cope. Daily, calls are made to check on individuals’ wellbeing and to provide a friendly and familiar voice; to address worries and concerns, and to provide continuity to their lives, reminding our clients of all the necessary daily tasks that they need to keep on top of, such as putting the bins out or eating regularly. In some cases, these calls can be many hours long as our more needy clients reach out for a level of remote support that helps them cope with the many challenges of mental health conditions in lockdown.

And as government guidance has changed, so have we. From distanced home checks, to distanced, accompanied walks, our team have been doing all they can to make this strange new environment as normal and manageable as possible in the most challenging of circumstances. One of our staff has even been decorating one of our clients’ rooms, to brighten the environment in which they live in lockdown; taking care to observe all the necessary social distancing and PPE protocols that we in the care and key sector have to implement.

For our longer-term clients, we’ve continued to provide distanced contact and a range of daily support that enables them to cope with each day as it comes. Combined with doorstep visits and social distanced outings - plus the reintroduction of socially distanced home visits and in-home support for those requesting and in need of this level of help - we are making a vital difference to their lives, helping them towards the long-term goal of confident independence.

We’re also providing support for an increasing number of new clients, many of whom have left the care of the NHS to help make space for those sick with Covid-19.

For these individuals, the transition to a strange social distanced world away from the formal care system is a struggle. This is where our team of support staff are here to provide essential help, just when individuals are at their highest risk of slipping back towards a mental health crisis.

Our aim is always to bridge the gap so that our clients are able to cope with daily life. Using our health promotion and prevention strategy, we continue to assist our clients with their daily needs, providing a friendly and familiar contact alongside support created to help them on their personal journey towards the ultimate goal of independence. It may be a very different approach to pre-coronavirus, but it’s working, providing a critical lifeline for our clients and their futures.

When so many businesses are stuck in suspended animation, here at Independent Living West Country we are busier than ever, working in new ways and growing to support those struggling with mental health triggered by the stresses of lockdown.

If you, a friend, or family member needs similar support, do let us know. We’re here to help.

Marie Tolly, Founder and Director, Independent Living West Country.

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