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October 17, 2019

#storyofloneliness – the value of mental health support for older people

I recently took part in a great, really insightful day in Middlesbrough on the Story of Loneliness. It helped to confirm some of the things I’ve learnt working on the Time to Shine funded project, Bee Together. I’d like to share some of my experience.

The day began with Tracey Robbins (of The Eden Project) talking candidly about her own family’s struggles with mental health, making the point that it’s not about statistics but real people, and they need to be at the centre of all we do.

Michelle Dawson, who leads Ageing Better Middlesbrough, spoke about the approach they had taken. Middlesbrough wanted to tackle the causes of loneliness, saying we need to address mental health. People need to have good or better mental health in order to be able to access new groups or activities. People who are lonely or isolated have issues of trust. We need to gain their trust before they can move forward. In order to do that you need to meet them where they are. Any project needs to be tailored to what people need rather than what the project wants to measure. For some, that emotional support needs to ongoing, long term. Going to groups funded for a short period will only highlight people’s isolation once the funding stops.

‘From Wellbeing Practitioners to a ripple effect. Supporting mental wellbeing in the community in Sheffield.’ (Sheffield Mind).

Anxiety after being isolated or feeling lonely stops people going out to find new groups and make new friends, so the project started by visiting people in their homes. A therapist would visit 3-6 times, leading to the person attending sessions in a wellbeing centre and hopefully going on to access groups and activities.

Not everyone wanted to go to a centre. Sometimes they needed 1:1 support at home over a long period of time. The project adjusted to what each person needed. Once they felt confident to go to the wellbeing centre they could access different sessions, such as Mindfulness, Dance and movement psychotherapy and Art therapy.

The Ripple Effect project came from the learning from the original project. Individuals who had taken part went on to share their new skills and confidence with others in the community. They created a resource pack to share.

Other themes centred around commissioning, particularly about commissioning what is needed, and how the actual quality of intervention can be measured. It was reiterated that you need the voice of the expert by experience to shape the service. Commissioners seem to look at the risk of doing things and not the benefits, but don’t measure the risks of staying the same!

Christina Victor (Gerontology and Public Health, Brunel University).

Christina is a world renowned researcher into ageing. Her message was that it takes time to build trust with people. They need a space to feel comfortable in and to be there for as long as they need us. The structures we have in place hinder this by the way they are funded. We do not live in in a time limited world. She also said that people with learning disabilities and physical disabilities are always left out of research and they should not be.

The day was very thought-provoking and an honest evaluation of what is needed to really help people.

Read conference and workshop slides, and summaries of workshop discussions.

Anna-Marie Garbutt
Project Coordinator, Bee Together (Health for All)