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Community scheme helps vulnerable people in RCT stay positive during lockdown

Written by on 2nd February 2021

A team of local wellbeing coordinators has beenhelping vulnerable people across RCT take positive steps to improve their mental health during the latest lockdown.

A team of seven Wellbeing Coordinators, managed by Interlink, has helped to connect people who are struggling with isolation and loneliness, housing issues and unemployment to the most appropriate support services within the local community, without them having to go through their GP.

The project is one example being highlighted by Welsh Government in its Help Us Help You campaign to show how adopting small changes and practising self-care can help protect and improve mental well-being at a time when levels of anxiety are so high.

According to YouGov research issued by Welsh Government this week, the biggest factor that has helped keep people’s spirits up in RCT during lockdown has been keeping in touch with friends and family.

Over a third of people in RCT (36%) said that speaking to loved ones on the phone or video calls had helped them to stay positive, even though they haven’t been able to see them in person, while 32% said that taking regular exercise had made a big difference to their mood.

Samantha Williams, a Wellbeing Coordinator based in the Cynon Valley, agreed that establishing contact with other people was one of the best ways to stay positive and that their team’s focus during the lockdown had been on helping to combat loneliness and isolation in the community.

“This latest lockdown has hit people particularly hard. Lots of the people we’re speaking to are really struggling. They’re not able to get out and about and many are finding it hard to make ends meet as they have lost their jobs, while others have lost loved ones and feel very alone.

“Our role during the pandemic has been to help anyone in the community to access the right support. We are based in GPs surgeries but we try to integrate as much as possible into the community so that people don’t feel that they have to come into the surgery to get our help and support.

“The main focus of our work since last March has been contacting and checking in with individuals who are struggling, providing as much help as we can over the phone, and then tailoring a package of support that’s right for them by referring them to the various services that can help with their individual circumstances.

“Most people come to us for help with a particular issue – for example, they may need our help with shopping or picking up prescriptions – but over the course of our ‘What Matters to You?’ conversation we are able to dig a bit deeper. Very often, other things emerge that they need support with, such as employment and training, financial difficulties or housing issues, and we can then signpost them to partner organisations that can help them. We very much act as a bridge to other services within the local community. It can be overwhelming for people who are feeling very low to know how to get the support they need to get back on track.

“During lockdown, we’ve made a lot of referrals to local mental health charities, community groups and telephone befriending services as sometimes even a ten-minute chat over a cuppa can really brighten what is otherwise a very long day.

“There are lots of other things that have really helped people to stay positive but what works for one person might not be right for another. For example, one lady who was suffering with fibromyalgia was referred to us as she had some problems with her housing but I soon found out that she was feeling really low, had no food in the cupboards, was struggling to pay her heating bills and the issues she was having with her landlord were having a real impact on her mental health.

“I was able to get an urgent food shop done for her that day, put her in touch with Shelter Cymry, arranged for her to receive a Warm Home discount on her energy bills, and also introduced her to a local community group so that she could make connections and feel part of something.

“Another gentleman was finding it hard to live independently and was feeling very low. I was able to sort a social care package for him, as well as a Sunday dinner delivery through Meals on Wheels and a friendly phonecall from the British Red Cross twice a week, which he loves.

“We’ve found that these small things which connect people with the outside world really can make a big difference.”

Julie Denley, Director of Primary, Community and Mental Health at Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board said: “While our local GPs and hospitals are under huge amounts of pressure caring for Covid patients and people with other health needs including mental health, the work being done by the Wellbeing Coordinators shows that there are plenty of other ways to get help if you’re feeling anxious or lonely.

“There are lots of really helpful resources and services still operating across the region helping people to feel connected and stay positive. Through the Help Us Help You campaign we want to highlight the various different ways that people who are struggling can feel supported and can still access the best help within the local community, while also allowing our doctors and nurses to focus their efforts on those people who have physical or mental health concerns that need their intervention.”

The Welsh Government spends more on mental health than on any other aspect of the NHS – with more than £700m invested annually. This has been supported by additional funding of almost £10m in a range of initiatives including Silver Cloud, an online cognitive behaviour therapy course, the CALL mental health helpline and the BEAT eating disorders helpline. All of this support is easy to access and doesn’t need a referral from a GP.