SPLW World Mental Health Day

Sunday 10 October is World Mental Health Day. Here, one of our Social Prescribing Link Workers (SPLW), talks about her role and how it is much more than just signposting people to services and groups.

People often come to us in crisis. They may be anxious, ambivalent about their current situation, they may be unsure about how or which services to access, they may be fearful.

Often people will come to us when other interventions have failed. Our aim is to help people make sense of the areas that are causing them distress or difficulty, and to offer practical and emotional support.

During the pandemic we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of people referred to us with a mental health issue. As we went in and out of lockdowns, we noticed an increase in people living with anxiety and trying to manage their emotions, often on their own, unable to or not knowing how or where to reach out for support.

During lockdown it was very much a case of being a listening ear on the end of the telephone. Offering reassurance or words of encouragement, getting people to celebrate their small victories, such as managing to walk to the end of the street or sit outside in their garden.

We work with individuals and sometimes family groups using a motivational approach. We are here to help to promote resilience and independence. We focus on what matters most to a person – very much one size does not fit all.

Part of being a SPLW is building strong relationships with other services, such as the GP Practice Mental Health Practitioner, the Community Mental Health Team or Adult Services. It’s about linking up and providing the best possible outcome for a person.

It’s great to be able to give someone details about a group or service that has reopened after lockdown, but for some people that is not enough. We need to be able to help them make informed choices, what would benefit them, how to develop the skills and knowledge, and find the confidence to make lasting choices that will help restore their wellbeing. The recurrent theme that keeps popping up when we discuss hobbies and interests with people since the easing of lockdown, is the need or desire to reconnect with others.

My passion is green spaces, and I am very privileged to be able to involve people in accessing nature and the great outdoors. People have told me that with the ongoing Covid situation, they feel the outdoors is a safer environment in which to meet.

‘Green prescribing’, as it’s often referred to, can look very different depending on the group or individual. Some people will sign up very quickly to a garden group, whilst others will tell you “I can’t do that, I can’t garden”. And that’s okay. But often when they get to a group, they find that it’s not all ‘digging for victory’ but a whole range of activities that they can try out, and actually just being around others can be so beneficial, having a sense of belonging, having your opinions and ideas valued, can boost a person’s confidence and mood massively.

At present I am involved in a garden group for people living with a dementia and their significant others, and I am currently collaborating with The Woodland Trust to offer a nature programme for people who are living with anxiety that was caused or exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The people attending are individuals whose journey I am already involved in. There may have been extensive support already given around housing, benefits and finances and social care. This is the part that makes being a SPLW so wonderful – seeing that person accessing a space where they are not having to answer countless questions in order to resolve pressing issues but allowed to ‘just be’.

It’s so transformative, allowing a person space to grow and open up, to see the person behind the problem, the diagnosis. To see that individual that is always on the periphery of a group, slowly, gently step in and integrate, to give and receive peer support, because you are able to give them time to do things at their own pace. The person who always looked down, looking up and seeing and noticing their surroundings, the wideness of the sky, the magnificent trees, see them notice wildlife, hear birdsong and observe squirrels scurrying back and forth, all senses fired up, sight, sound, smell, texture and taste.

When someone tells you ‘you’ve made a difference’ or gives you a smile, that’s when you know that somewhere along this journey you’ve put the rights things in place at the right time. You’ve been able to help somebody find strength to make positive choices.

I am also extremely lucky to have made connections with The Wildlife Trusts and The Smithills Collective, all wonderful people offering a variety of ways to access and enjoy the natural world.

Trish Goodwin, SPLW

Some feedback from Trish’s patients:

“I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me…. You’re a star!”

“Thanks Trish, for everything. I got £1,400 back and my adaptations are being done tomorrow.”

“Thanks for your help Trish, I had a call from the doctor’s reception. Thanks again. I gave you a 5 star review!!”

“If I could I would kiss you because without you getting the ball rolling, I wouldn’t be here.”

“I just can’t thank you enough… I felt like I had run out of options and still just clinging on.”