World Mental Health Day 2020

To mark this year’s World Mental Health Day, today’s blog comes from Shelagh Hetreed, Business Officer & Training Coordinator at Nilaari.

The stillness that this pandemic provides us allows reflection and new purpose to stir within us.

Since lockdown began, Nilaari has continued creating safe spaces for meeting the mental health needs of BAME communities, including university students, public sector workers and the many who found themselves on no other agency’s list for receiving support. We have worked to find different ways of engaging and maintaining contact with many newly anxious and distressed people, helping them to help themselves in psychological and practical ways. We find new themes emerging, alongside the familiar ones, which demonstrate the increasing demand for culturally sensitive therapeutic services across the City of Bristol.

For World Mental Health Day, some Nilaari practitioners have reflected on the new ‘usual’, of meeting the needs of all who reach out to us:

One day we were seeing clients 1:1 at our Stapleton Road offices and the next, we were at home, creating a private space to speak to the clients by phone. We quickly needed to establish different methods and skills to meet our clients’ needs, from our home space into theirs. The Nilaari therapy service managed to continue seamlessly, although for clients and therapists alike, we needed to adapt to no longer meeting face to face, despite this being such an important part of building a healing relationship.  

No longer could we ‘read’ body language or facial expressions, but we quickly learned to tune in to tone of voice. Our clients now needed to find a safe space to speak, to have sufficient credit on their phone and to know that they could be heard and understand. Not everyone could adapt but many more have found ‘voice only’ liberating and have felt able to speak more freely. Some see advantages in avoiding travelling across the city or not worrying about how they look (which probably applies to therapists too). Others who have faced extreme isolation and hardship see us as a lifeline and the only continuity and ongoing support they receive. Others express feelings of being abandoned by other services who are now unable able to offer support. At Nilaari, we are first of all respectful listeners, treating each person with respect, dignity and patience as the therapeutic journey begins.

Statistics inform us that mental health referrals may increase by 30% due to the pandemic. Nilaari’s challenges increase as we experience increasing anxiety and depression through fear, loss and uncertainty. Our team undertook trauma training in the first few months.

For some from BAME communities, there is growing distress exacerbated by conflicting information about Covid 19 and the stark statistic that those from some communities may be disproportionately affected. How do you stay safe in multi-occupancy homes, as frontline workers, working in less safe conditions while also trying to protect your family and friends by keeping a distance?

Many of our clients have been greatly impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement. The outpouring of media responses have been troubling, frightening. For many, it has been a reflection of their own life experiences.  Sadly, some folk feel entitled to express their opinions in the faces of any member of the BAME community they meet. BLM has stirred up emotions and feelings around race inequalities and injustice that have perhaps been previously suppressed. 

We are now hearing first-hand about micro-aggressions in the workplace and systemic racism, which is having a negative impact on mental health. Clients may express feelings of isolation, exclusion and not being taken seriously, while feeling powerless to take action. Anxiety, depression & frustration are rising way above peoples tolerance levels. 

This last 6 months has made time for self-reflection, unsettling feelings and facing unresolved issues.

Some new clients express how they feel things have become magnified with the pandemic, hence their need to seek support. Many choose Nilaari because they feel that they will be understood. It can be emotionally intense hearing our clients suffering such hardship but we listen and offer tried and tested therapeutic methods to move the person to a more positive and resilient ‘place’.

It has been and continues to be a challenging time for practitioners, constantly reflecting on the hardships of our clients.  As waiting lists grow, the team are poised ready, phone in hand to continue to reach out to all our communities and are rewarded by the trust that is placed in them by our fellow citizens.

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