This week our wonderful colleague Catherine is sadly leaving Stockport Mind, but we are really excited for her starting a new chapter in therapeutic services. Her farewell article is below. Thank you for everything Catherine, and best of luck for the future!
I joined Stockport Mind in February 2019 as Isolation & Social Engagement Worker. I had spent many years working in roles to help people that are experiencing crisis such as the Probation Service, Youth Offending Service and working with families with multiple difficulties whilst at Trafford Council.
Providing support and guidance around mental health difficulties has been a part of all these roles and I jumped at the opportunity to join Stockport Mind so I could develop this further and learn from such an established provider of community support.
I was very excited to be working specifically to target isolation and loneliness as I had felt for some time that these are common themes in so many of the people’s lives that I had supported over the years. The impact of being isolated was starting to be highlighted with a Loneliness Minister appointed and a heightened awareness that this experience could actually be as damaging to health outcomes as smoking.
I will now be moving on from Stockport Mind to be a Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner for IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) where I will be studying to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Low intensity mental health interventions.
The roles of part time Isolation Workers was funded by Pebble, a grant-giving charity. This was awarded to both Stockport Mind and Age UK to target lonely and isolated residents of Stockport. Stockport Mind are funded to work with residents aged 16 and over and Age UK work specifically with the older demographic.
The initial idea was that this would be how the work was likely to be divided between the two services, but actually the majority of the clients that have self-referred and been referred by other services have been in the older age group.
Going forward, I know that one of the goals for the service is to try to reach younger clients – research indicates that young people identify as being just as isolated, if not more so, than older people. I have really enjoyed working closely in partnership with Age UK Stockport workers. Being able to seek advice on services or approaches in helping older clients has been invaluable.
Shortly after I joined Stockport Mind, the charity did not have the funding renewed to deliver the link work service, which resulted in a number of staff having to move on. As my first experience of working for a charity, I soon realised how crucial winning grants and funding contracts is to actually continuing to serve the community, something I had taken for granted working in other roles in the past.
Stockport Mind work so hard to continually keep searching for possible funding, they are fantastic at adapting with the skills and knowledge that the staff have. I have seen how essential the support offered is, to people who may not meet the criteria of other services.
After a transitional time for the charity, Stockport Mind adapted and even found further funding to expand the Isolation Service and employ another part-time worker Leyla, and then a Volunteer Co-ordinator Marita. The recruitment and training of Volunteers, to be matched with service users in the future, will be an exciting way to reach more people through the service and positively involve the community.
One of the biggest challenges I think many of us have faced recently, both personally and professionally, is coping with the impact of Covid-19. This meant that clients that already had very little social support could not access social groups or activities that they relied on to maintain and improve their mental health.
The service that we could offer also had to adapt to be delivered mostly over the phone. Despite these challenges, I think we have succeeded to engage clients, build rapport and offer advice and support.
I feel that the most important part of my job is to listen. Providing service users with the time and space to tell their story and express their feelings is a privilege. One of the positives of living through this virus is that loneliness and isolation are words that everyone is a lot more tuned into and there is heightened awareness of how difficult this can feel.
I think this is resulting, in many cases, in people checking in with their neighbours or friends more. I hope we can maintain that. It has certainly made me reflect on how essential human contact is to our mental health and further highlights how vital the role of Isolation & Social Engagement Worker will continue to be, which I am very proud to have done.