Christmas will be a hard time for many people in the North East but help is available, says Mind charity manager

Not everyone finds Christmas a time for cheer – and after the toughest of years many will be facing a hard few weeks ahead. We’ve spoken to one of the leading mental health charities in the North East that helps people across the region to find out the scale of the challenge ahead.

By Fiona Thompson
Monday, 7th December 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 7th December 2020, 1:02 pm

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Leading North East mental health charity Washington Mind – one of 130 associations nationally – has been ensuring those experiencing or are at risk of developing mental ill health or emotional distress.

Its mission is to work in partnership with the community to promote recovery and improve mental health and wellbeing and is base at its Life House centre, with its work also taken online to help reduce the risks to people’s health during the coronavirus crisis.

With many feeling overwhelmed and in need of somewhere to turn to, it is ready to give people the help they need, although admits it is facing “the greatest test of our mental health to date” with it and other services bracing themselves as the pandemic continues through the winter.

Christmas time can leave people feeling isolated and it can increase anxiety.

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Led by chief executive officer Jacqui Reeves, its team support anyone aged from 11 through a range of services including information resources, counselling, alternative therapies, telephone support, therapeutic group work, psycho-educational sessions, wellbeing activities, training and volunteering opportunities.

It is also one of the few (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) BACP accredited services in the North East, with its work aimed at also challenging and reducing stigma and discrimination.

Jacqui said: “As we approach the build up to the Christmas holidays charities such as Mind often see a very different side to the high street version of Christmas.

"People often contact us at the lowest point of their lives and this year we have all struggled more than most.

"Not all of us are surrounded by family and friends, with scrumptious food and presents galore.

"If you or your loved ones are struggling with a mental health issue, if you have financial difficulties or are coping with bereavement joining in with the Christmas festivities can be just too much to bear.

“For many of us it’s the actual build up to Christmas that impacts on our health - you might feel overwhelmed and pressured because of the shopping, cooking, cleaning and organising for the holidays.

"We are often forced to spend time with relatives we don’t see for the rest of the year.”

Since lockdown began it has focused on the mental impact of the crisis, with a wealth of informatio available via wellbeinginfo.org/self-help/corona-virus-updates-and-advice/.

Jacqui said: “Coronavirus is dominating headlines around the world.

"While the media focus is on the impact on people’s physical health and what’s being done to prevent the spread of the disease; anxiety about the virus can also have an impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

"Several organisations have released useful articles to help you look after yourself during this time, which include helpful and practical tips to help you with everyday life.”

Washington Mind has followed the NHS’s guidance on how to respond to Coronavirus.

"In the light of this advice, we decided that, as in March we should suspend providing all face-to-face services to people, including all Life House groups and activities,” said Jacqui.

"We did try to stay open to the public as long as possible because we know Washington Mind is a lifeline to some people, especially those who are very socially isolated.

“Since then we have offered support via the telephone, text and online support through email and our social media platforms. All staff are currently working from home and have collectively dealt with over 80,000 enquiries since the end of March 2020.

“We re-started face to face work in July working in team ‘bubbles’ and adhering to guidelines around social distancing, face masks and handwashing/sanitising.”

While it works through the restrictions, it is preparing to add to its Sunderland Time to Change hub, which works out in the community.

Thanks to funds raised earlier in the year, it has bought a campervan, which it plans to help get to harder to reach areas, with Jacqui adding: “We can’t wait for restrictions to end so that we can use it at local events and engage with those people who wouldn’t feel able to approach a mental health service.”

Its telephone lines have remain open on its usual number (0191) 417 8043, manned by staff home working, and it is responding to requests for support and signposting to appropriate support, such as food deliveries.

It has also launched a new Live Chat and this online chat service is available between the hours of 2pm until 4pm weekdays, with more information available via www.washingtonmind.org.uk/live-chat/.

The team also runs a social support group, which already has more than 140 members, which offers online activities including quizzes, arts and crafts, exercises and film and book clubs.

Its Young People’s Project are working with partners to offer online groups, with Let Out the Noise singing group, You’re Not Alone and Rainbow Renegades.

Anyone who would like to find out more about its services can visit the regional website www.wellbeinginfo.org.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and need to talk, there is support available for you 24 hours a day. The Samaritans can be reached any time, anywhere in the UK at 116 123 or over email at [email protected] for completely free, non-judgemental help.

Alternatively, you can text "SHOUT" to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text "YM" if you're under 19.

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