Jillian Milne reflects on how Covid-19 has affected the support Mindspace offers, and what the longer term impact of the pandemic will be
Well 2020 certainly wasn’t the year anyone expected! Like many other projects around the country, our Perth and Kinross based mental health charity switched all service provision to online and telephone within a week of the March 2020 lockdown.
As an organisation provide counselling, learning sessions around mental health and self-management (Recovery College) and peer support - whose stock and only modus operandi was face to face support, this was a significant undertaking.
Though challenging, the amazing people involved with Mindspace stepped up with their usual flexibility, humour and resolve. Digital support has been an aspect of our organisational strategic development plan for a couple of years now but due to busyness (and general foot-dragging) was being kicked down the pecking order of importance. Covid changed that in a heartbeat – thank goodness we had already moved to Office 365 and Sharepoint! However, our CRM which is still in development would’ve been an additional boon!
Whilst we were up and ready to respond to demand there was resistance from clients to this technological revolution with many preferring to wait until face to face provision was ready to begin again. This has been the experience of others in our sector too. In fairness, as time has worn on many have become convinced of the merits of these alternatives and have gradually moved to the telephone or from telephone to Zoom, as their confidence grows.
Clearly, there were - and still are - ongoing cost implications of home working, not least hardware. People who job shared or shared technology due to their lesser need to access equipment had to be kitted out. Mobile phones had to be purchased, never ending phone top ups, Zoom licences, a weighty investment in training for counsellors to allow them to do initial assessments online and hardware to lend to non-digital clients to allow them to engage too. A big thanks to Gannochy Trust for helping us with some of this expense.
On the plus side, Covid has influenced many positives including service creativity and improved partnership working. E.g. several third sector projects in Perth got together to create Zoom Rooms hosted in grassroots community bases. These rooms offered people who had neither access to technology nor a safe or confidential space the opportunity to do just that. Likewise, partnership meeting attendance has improved as many people found themselves able to attend sessions virtually rather than being sucked into the usual office distractions.
Covid has undoubtedly impacted our current approach to service delivery but nothing quite beats face to face support particularly for those experience mental ill health. We believe that our future provision will incorporate a blend of face to face and digital care, enabling those isolated at home or homebound with multiple health issues or in rural locations to engage with vital mental health support. Covid has ensured that digital has fast become part of our DNA – even for those of us who hail from earlier times than Millenials or our Gen Z children. The long-term impact of Covid on mental health is yet to be fully felt by society – isolation, unemployment and social deprivation are going to become more evident in the coming months. Third sector organisations are easy targets for funding cuts from statutory partners facing their own financial challenges – despite how small in overall terms the total award to the sector amounts to. Trusts and grant providers are already overwhelmed by applications totalling five and six times more than their purse. Mental health has already been touted as the next pandemic – lets hope we have the resources required to meet that demand.
Jillian Milne is chief executive of Mindspace, which offers mental health and wellbeing support to people in Perth and Kinross