As part of International Stress Awareness Week, Lesley-Anne Knowles, Executive Director – People at Changing Lives, explains how we look after the mental health of our teams and of the people we support through our services at a time where people are facing increasingly stressful situations.

Supporting people’s mental wellbeing and helping them deal with trauma is at the heart of what we do at Changing Lives. We provide support to thousands of people facing the most challenging of circumstances every year, and focusing on their mental wellbeing is pivotal to our – and their – success. Our staff members’ wellbeing is also a priority, as they deal not only with their own challenges but also with the impact of the difficult situations they support people through.

As an organisation we’ve always had measures in place to provide mental health support to people that need it – inside and outside of the organisation. More recently, however, we’ve had to adapt in response to the pandemic to ensure that we can keep people safe but also keep people connected at a time when we’re all feeling more isolated than ever.

That means we’ve needed to be incredibly creative in the way that our staff have delivered support to people who use our services, whether that’s been moving a recovery group online, staying in touch with people over Whatsapp or starting activities that can be done remotely that can still bring people together. We’ve seen people connecting over sewing groups and online journaling courses, helping to protect their mental health during a difficult time. We’ve also provided things like mobile phones alongside welfare packs to make sure people have a way to stay connected to their loved ones and to their support workers.

We’ve also had to adapt as an organisation, as more of our staff work from home or in small ‘bubbles’. Without regular face-to-face connection we’ve had to introduce new ways to stay in touch, such as virtual coffee mornings, team quizzes, and (when restrictions have allowed) walking meetings in local parks. Making sure we all take time to check in with each other – about how things are going inside and outside of work – plays such an important role in helping us all to manage our stress and mental health.

What we are seeing within the current Covid-19 environment is that it feels like we’re on a treadmill that is getting faster and faster making it increasingly challenging to get ahead of the issues and raising the stakes even higher, not only for those who rely on our services but for everyone. Prioritising mental wellbeing has never been more important and is something we will continue to focus on at Changing Lives.

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