Five ways we’ve been supporting mental wellbeing during coronavirus

Juliann Hall, 22 May 2020

We work with 20,000 customers at SYHA and support for mental and physical wellbeing has always been at the heart of our work. We are now seven weeks into lockdown, a period unlike any other we have known.

As the crisis hit, we set out some principles at the outset to guide our work: 

  • We would not be steered away from our purpose - with SYHA you can settle, live well and realise your potential. This purpose continues to be our guiding light.
  • We would keep our focus on where we can be of maximum service and deliver the things our customers most want and need from us right now.
  • We would work hard to mitigate the risks of lockdown - issues such as declining mental health, social isolation and poor physical health.

Here are five of the ways we’ve been keeping mental wellbeing front and centre of our work in supporting our customers.

1. Tackling social isolation

We see social isolation as one of the most significant risks of the current crisis. The term social distancing is a misnomer – we need to physically distance to control the virus, but there has never been a time when we needed more social connection and support. We have applied the measures required to enable physical distancing but worked hard to sustain social connectedness.

Here are a few of the things we’ve been doing:

  • Adapted the activity calendar in our supported housing services so that activities can be enjoyed by customers from their windows or socially distancing in the gardens.
  • Some services have started a mini-magazine so that customers can share news, artwork, tips and music playlists.
  • We’ve partnered with schools so that local children can write to residents in our Extra Care Housing.
  • Our Social Prescribing Services, which allow primary care staff to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services, have supported over 500 customers – linking them into sources of connection in their local communities.
  • Daily coffee mornings have been run from the balconies of Extra Care Housing.

2. Getting digital

Lockdown and social distancing put significant constraints on face to face support for our customers. We were determined not to let the lockdown prevent us from connecting with our customers, particularly at a time where there is increased risk of poor mental wellbeing. We’ve worked hard to make sure that the telephone and online support we are offering to customers living in the community is as rich as it can be.

  • Our Trauma Informed Counsellor has been delivering telephone counselling to our Housing First customers.
  • We have continued to deliver key work sessions online or by phone. We see this as critical to mitigating the indirect impacts of coronavirus.
  • Our teams have been creative in setting up online sessions which deliver what our customers tell us they most need - from virtual social groups and games nights to running virtual “Clean Together” sessions for customer seeking support with household chores.
  • Our Work and Health team have been delivering online coaching to customers navigating the employment market in the current climate.

3. Bringing joy

We believe that all humans we have a right to beauty and joy, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Over the last six years our Moments of Joy programme has delivered a wide range of activities including dance and music sessions, theatre workshops, film screenings, ceramic workshops, theatre performances, gardening redevelopments, unique art commissions and more.

Here are some of the things we’ve been doing:

  • Running digital book groups and shared reading sessions.
  • Hosting balcony choir and singing sessions for our residents in Extra Care Housing.
  • Offering musical and dance performances in the grounds of Extra Care Housing .
  • Delivering arts and crafts materials and weekly activities to our supported housing customers.

4. Doing the basics brilliantly

In times of crisis what people most need are simple things done consistently well – shelter, safety, food. We have worked hard to make sure every customer at SYHA has a route to having basis needs met and that no one slips through the net.

  • We are in regular contact with over 500 of our general housing association customers aged over 70 to check on their welfare, see if there's anything they need and deliver essential supplies to their door.
  • We have delivered home learning packs, toys and books to the children in our services for homeless families.
  • We’ve been providing food deliveries to ensure people have access to good nutrition.

5. Recognising the power of people and community

Our customers have adopted and supported the new ways of working that came with the lockdown. This has made a significant difference to our efforts to control the virus and has had a great impact on the safety of everyone that uses or works in our services.

They have been a driving force in retaining a sense of community in our services, despite the national constraints and have supported our work and each other by volunteering and offering telephone buddying.

At SYHA our route through the crisis has only been possible by the combined efforts of our customers and workforce. We would like to conclude by acknowledging the huge efforts of our customers in supporting SYHA.