Moving into the second national lockdown after several months of restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many housing providers are seeing an increase in mental health issues in their tenants. As a provider of mental health supported housing, Rethink Mental Illness are used to helping tenants in their recovery from a mental illness. However, our service users have been affected by the pandemic too and the changes in the way we have had to operate mean we’ve had to think creatively about how we provide that support.
Some of the steps our service managers have taken can be useful at any time and others reflect the circumstances of pandemic. At a time when many clients’ mental health has deteriorated, maintaining contact has been key. Providing face to face support is more challenging because of the circumstances we’re in, but regular phone calls have been really effective for many clients.
Avoiding isolation is key for all of our mental wellbeing at the moment, so a call just to check in and chat can make a big difference. It’s also important to be responsive to the individual you’re working with. Many services have provided things like mindfulness colouring books to help clients. We’ve also found spending time outside really valuable. We’ve organised things like small, socially distanced gardening groups where we’ve had the space and the weather has been fine, as well as similarly socially distanced walks.
For service users who have internet access there are a wealth of options, like free yoga apps and exercise groups that people can get involved with. The benefits of exercise for mental health are enormous and physical activity brings huge benefits. For some, online support such as Facebook groups can be really helpful, but again this depends on whether the person in question takes comfort in speaking to others in a similar position.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some tenants may have issues that are a big part of why their mental health is declining. Issues such as increasing debt, which is likely to increase across the board, can be a serious concern that people may be reluctant to talk about. Creating space to have those conversations and being able to signpost people to the support available can be really valuable.
More generally, it has been really important to help our tenants to set manageable, achievable goals such as a certain amount of exercise, or contacting friends and family. Small successes can make a big difference, particularly now when many things can feel outside our control. Giving ourselves credit for the things we achieve, and not too hard a time for the things we can’t, is really important right now.
The circumstances we’re in at the moment mean that some mental health challenges are inevitable, but these steps can help housing providers get ahead of them and try to prevent some of their most harmful consequences.