Joanna is taking part in the Working it Out project at AMH New Horizons Ards & North Down The OCN Level 1 Mixed Media art student, Joanna, was recently shortlisted in two categories at the OCN awards. She was Highly Commended in Health and Wellbeing Learner of the Year and also Highly Commended in Third Sector Learner of the Year.
Joanna started at AMH New Horizons shy, easily overwhelmed, and lacking in self-confidence and self-belief. But now, she can lose herself in creativity. She has had to overcome tough and demanding physical, mental and emotional impacts of anxiety. She is a wonderful example of what can be achieved by facing your fears, riding out uncomfortable sensations/feelings, to commit to something important to you. Joanna’s strength throughout the OCN course has been her determination to overcome her anxiety and build a future where she is achieving her dreams.
Pauline Matthew, Skills Coach at AMH New Horizons, described the joy she has gained from helping Joanna throughout the course:
“Joanna’s journey was magical to watch. Seeing her light up, speak passionately and positively to other students about her work – lit the touchpaper to Joanna’s increased self-belief in her ability to not only create great art but to take pride in it, own it and believe in herself.
She has pushed through, forced herself to sit with the uncomfortable, overcoming fears, anxiety and emotions to contribute to the classes and to create meaningful, personal and beautiful art.”
Joanna is continuing to push herself beyond her comfort boundaries, sharing her thoughts, promoting ideas and proposals for better or more creative ways of working.
The “Working it Out” project is part-funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health & Social Care Trusts.
The theme for Mental Health Awareness 2022 is tackling loneliness and the impact it can have on our mental health and wellbeing. One of the projects that Action Mental Health is involved with is ChatPal, a mental health chatbot. The project is being led by Ulster University and Courtney Potts, a Research Associate at the University explains a bit more about the project and how it aims to tackle loneliness and isolation for people living in rural areas:
The ChatPal project includes the development and trailing of a multilingual mental health app – the ChatPal chatbot. Ulster University and Action Mental Health are involved in the project, along with other European partners in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Finland, and Sweden. The ChatPal chatbot promotes positive mental wellbeing of individuals and is targeted at those living in sparsely populated areas.
At the beginning of the project, workshops were held with health professionals, mental health service users and university staff/ students. The purpose of these workshops was to find out what people want and need from a mental health chatbot, and what professionals would support. The aim was to work with these groups to co-design and co-produce the chatbot. During the workshops, the topic of loneliness was discussed given this can affect people living in rural areas. One participant said:
“As an older person experiencing social isolation, I want a friendly chatbot to talk to about my interests so I can feel less lonely & I can feel some degree of companionship in my home”
Users can converse with ChatPal to learn about the causes of loneliness, and the chatbot can provide tips to help people manage these feelings. In ChatPal you can also find relevant mental health information, exercises, simple monitoring and self-care tools, and where to go to access additional mental health support.
The goal for ChatPal is not to replace traditional services, but instead to make them better, more inclusive, streamlined, scalable, and sustainable. The ChatPal chatbot can be used as part of a blended service offering, that can add to in-person sessions as opposed to replacing them. It can also be used as a general health promotion tool, allowing the general population to look after their own mental wellbeing.
This funding source for this project is the Interreg VB Northern Periphery & Arctic Programme under the grant for Conversational Interfaces Supporting Mental Health and Wellbeing of People in Sparsely Populated Areas (ChatPal) project number 345.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and we are looking at ways of tackling the impact of loneliness on our mental health and wellbeing. Working patterns for many of us have changed, since the start of the pandemic and many people have found this has caused a multitude of issues including loneliness and isolation.
AMH Works has provided some great tips on how to adapt to new ways of working.
Being in work is important for everyone’s general health and wellbeing: it gives us a purpose (and an income), promotes independence, allows us to develop social contacts, and is a factor in preventing both physical and mental health problems (WHO).
Many people found themselves in the position of having to work from home because of coronavirus (COVID-19). This brought with it a lot of stressful and new challenges such as a lack of structure, distractions, blurred boundaries and isolation; affecting mental health and your wellbeing. It was very natural to have feelings of frustration, loneliness, worry, or concern for yourself and those close to you. Now that the world is changing and workplaces are starting to return we might find ourselves worried about change again. The four A’s is a helpful tool for proactive stress management and limiting the pressure you take on. Here is how you could use it to help you stress less and ease into the transition of hybrid working;
The four A’s; Avoid, Alter, Adapt & Accept
It’s important to remember, that it’s not healthy to avoid a stressful situation that needs to be addressed but you may be surprised by the number of pressures and stressors in your life you can reduce and take control of.
It’s ok to say no: Know your own limits, ensure that you are not taking too much on, and it’s important to practice self-care.
Avoid people who cause you stress: It’s ok to avoid the people who cause you unnecessary stress, you might want to take some time apart from that person or even end the relationship.
Control your environment: Taking control of your environment can help alleviate pressure, we live on a notified and anxious planet, ration social media and the news. If the morning commute might cause you to worry, try listening to your favourite music or a podcast to create less stress and promote a greater sense of peace and control.
Sometimes you can’t avoid a stressful situation but you can alter it.
Speak your mind: It’s okay to voice how you are feeling in a respectful manner, practise becoming more assertive to ensure your worries and concerns are heard. Try to tackle the problem early to avoid the situation from escalating.
Finding the middle ground: Be willing to compromise and also change some things about yourself in order to find a happy outcome for all parties.
All work and no play?: The Five Ways to Wellbeing provide five key steps that you can take as your mental ‘five-a-day’ to contribute to your overall wellbeing. Strive to set time aside to practice the ‘five-a-day’ and invest in self-care.
If you can’t change the stressful situation you can learn to adapt. You can challenge unhelpful thinking patterns and gain perspective.
Reframe: viewing a stressful situation in the current situation positively might be tough, but it’s important to take time to pause and reflect. Try to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.
Perspective: Take time to reflect on perspective V reality. Ask yourself; will it matter next week? A month? A year?
Self-Standard: are you setting yourself unreasonable goals? Do others expect this from you? Learn ways to be ok with not being perfect and being ‘good enough’. Creating a ‘good enough’ mindset that isn’t filled with unrealistic expectations will help you cultivate a sense of wellbeing.
Some situations maybe are unavoidable and out of our control. In such cases, it is important to remember we have to cope with stress by acceptance. It can be very difficult to do but it can present you with more time to focus your energy on taking care of yourself!
Keep talking: sharing your feelings and expressing your thoughts is more important than ever, talk to a colleague, a trusted friend, a councillor or your GP.
Stay positive: reflect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and challenge negative situations by practising the four A’s. Take time to reflect and gain perspective.
AMH Works provide a range of programmes which support employers to improve mental and emotional wellbeing in the workplace and create Healthy, Resilient Workplaces, to find out more contact AMH Works Manager, Shelly Wilson on 07540124083 or [email protected]
There will be times when extra support is needed, if you’re finding things really difficult you might want to speak to your line manager, a GP, Lifeline or Samaritans. Further information on sources of support is available on www.amh.org.uk.
Mental Health Awareness Week shines a welcome spotlight on efforts to reduce the impact of loneliness on our mental health and wellbeing. For many of Action Mental Health’s services such as our AMH New Horizons services, tackling loneliness and increasing social connections for our clients is a central element of our work throughout the year.
AMH’s New Horizons services which are located right across Northern Ireland, are much-vaunted support networks to people experiencing periods of mental ill-health.
AMH New Horizons operates recovery services that offer wellbeing, vocational and employability programmes. This complements AMH’s emotional wellbeing and resilience building programmes in schools, workplaces and indeed across the community which aim to build a more resilient and healthier population. Last year AMH services supported almost 25,000 local people, of all ages, right across Northern Ireland.
Clients attending AMH New Horizons take part in a range of courses, from therapeutic classes like arts and crafts, to accredited training and work placements through the “Working it Out” project. Working it Out is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health & Social Care Trusts.
The effects of loneliness
There have been many studies on the impact of loneliness and the findings are stark as highlighted below:
Loneliness is a killer; in fact it can hasten your death by up to 30% among some risk groups.
According to a study of 3.4million people, carried out by Brigham Young University, USA, people who are or feel socially isolated or live alone – whatever their age – are at increased risk of an earlier death. The study’s lead author, Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad said the harmful effects of loneliness are similar to the harm caused by smoking, obesity or alcohol misuse.
The study, Social Isolation, Loneliness and Health Among Older Adults by Caitlin Coyle and Elizabeth Dugan found that loneliness was associated with higher odds of having a mental health problem, while isolation was associated with higher odds of reporting one’s health as being fair or poor.
How AMH is making a difference
Many of our clients regularly tell us that they rely on the social interactions and new friendship networks they build through attending services such as AMH New Horizons and our Mens Sheds to combat their own challenges with loneliness.
We have AMH New Horizons services located across Northern Ireland and you can find out more about the services in your local area by clicking here. On this page you can find contact details for your local service, as well as details on how to access these services for yourself or a loved one.
Our Mens Shed provide a great social setting for men over the age of 50, who we know are one of the groups most at risk of the impacts of loneliness. Our shedders build new skills and friendship networks in a relaxed, comfortable environment, with other people who are facing similar issues. Our Mens Sheds are located in Antrim, Downpatrick and Enniskillen and you can find out more about them byclicking here.
The Working it Out is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health & Social Care Trusts.
Someone who’s lonely probably also finds it hard to reach out. There’s a stigma surrounding loneliness, and people tend not to ask for help because they have too much pride. But it’s important to remember loneliness can – and does – affect anyone, of any age.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, we are sharing some ideas of things you can do to help tackle loneliness.
Smile, even if it feels hard – Grab every chance to smile at others or begin a conversation – for instance, with the cashier at the shop or the person next to you in the GP waiting room. If you’re shy or not sure what to say, try asking people about themselves.
Invite friends for tea – If you’re feeling down and alone, it’s tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends, family and neighbours will appreciate receiving an invitation to come and spend some time with you.
Keep in touch by phone – Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them.
Learn to love computers – If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch is by using a computer or tablet. Libraries and community centres often hold regular training courses to learn basic computer skills – as well as being a good place to meet and spend time with others in their own right.
Get involved in local community activities – These will vary according to where you live, but the chances are you’ll have access to a singing or walking group, book clubs, bridge, bingo, quiz nights and faith groups.
Fill your diary – It can help you feel less lonely if you plan the week ahead and put things in your diary to look forward to each day, such as a walk in the park or going to a local coffee shop, library, sports centre or cinema.
Get out and about – Don’t wait for people to come and see you, travel to visit them.
Help others – Use the knowledge and experience you have gained to give something back to your community.
Mental Health Awareness Week is a special week-long event designed to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and to inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, set by the Mental Health Foundation, is the experience of loneliness, its effect on our mental health and how we can all play a part in reducing loneliness in our communities.
It is important that we raise awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental wellbeing and the practical steps we can take to address it. Reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society. Loneliness affects millions of people in the UK every year and is a key driver of poor mental health.
The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health in the Pandemic research has found that loneliness has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. The Foundation has been tracking loneliness levels in the UK during the pandemic and found the experience has been much higher with devastating impact. Loneliness has been an important factor contributing to higher levels of distress, resulting from people’s sense of isolation and reduced ability to connect with others. Further polling also found that loneliness was one of the leading issues that the public felt needed to be addressed.
Mark Rowland Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:
“We hope this year’s theme of loneliness will strike a chord with many of us who felt lonely and struggled throughout the Covid pandemic.
Millions of us experience loneliness from time to time. We know that some people are at higher risk of experiencing loneliness and the evidence shows the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems.”
David Babington Chief Executive of Action Mental Health added:
“Action Mental Health warmly welcomes this year’s focus on combating loneliness to help aid better mental health. For many years Action Mental Health’s services, across Northern Ireland, have provided a constant source of support to our clients, many of whom have told us that they would otherwise face isolation.
The impact of the pandemic has undoubtedly increased challenges for people right across society, with many people cut off from their traditional support networks. I am delighted that Action Mental Health has been able to maintain support and contact, right throughout the pandemic for our clients.”
Throughout the week, AMH will offer a comprehensive package of tips, advice and help to those experiencing loneliness, so that they can help to support their mental health and wellbeing.
Action Mental Health’s specialist eating disorder service, AMH everyBODY, is looking inward, aiming tosteer attention to its clients’ voices – and their own personal experiences. To highlight Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2022, one of AMH everyBODY’s clients, shares their own thoughts on eating disorder recovery.
“I think the biggest misconceptions connected to eating disorders (ED) are that it is attention-seeking behaviours and that they can be diagnosed/recognised based on physical appearance alone. This downgrades the experiences of those living with ED.
My ED thoughts and behaviours started around 11 years of age. I first saw a professional in school when I was 12. It is now that I’m older (28) that I can observe the grip of those false dark thoughts and behaviours have significantly loosened. I remember reading or seeing things promoting speaking out when I was younger and thinking; no way could anyone understand any of this. I was so controlled by the thoughts inside my head. It wasn’t easy starting to let go of something that has lived with me for so long.
But trust me, there are people out there that want to, will and can help. Maybe we don’t exactly need someone to understand per sae, but when things are verbalised they become less intrusive and talking becomes a stepping stone to freedom. There are people out there who are equipped to help us recognise and reframe our ED thoughts, feelings and behaviours. We deserve to be empowered and to make that empowerment much stronger than the voices in our heads.
To me recovery means the road to becoming free from the internal dialogue that lives inside. We cannot do this alone; it is easier when we are provided with a toolkit for dealing with and overcoming ED. Realise that we deserve to be free and we are worthy of help and support. It is remembering, no matter how long it may take if we continue to fight we can start to release the control ED has over us. We can start to realise that it is not us, we become observant rather than obsessed.”
“ED can erode relationships with ourselves and others. The internal dialogues that come from ED will tell you are ok the way you are, but seeking help can help release us from that headspace that traps us. This ED brain may convince you that you don’t need help from the outside and/or you can survive without support. Yes, we are all individual but we need to move away from that internal individualistic dialogue and mindset that ED creates. Seeking external support can enhance internal wellbeing. Sometimes it feels impossible or too scary to reach out but as long as the fight continues, talking and seeking help can make a huge difference in how you see and experience all that comes with living with ED.
If we can bring ourselves to view thoughts and behaviours as a product of the ED brain and not our rational brain, this can provide a more true and rational understanding of what is going on. The ED brain can be toxic and fill us with contempt and crippling false narratives. We do not like the thoughts and behaviours it produces, especially when they are left to ruminate and can become trapped and spark off other negative thoughts. They can erode the real YOU.
When stuff gets trapped inside our heads, it feels so true but having someone to verbalise things to without judgement can help rationalise how true they really are. Openness is key. Recovery is a struggle but it is worth it. It is nothing compared to the struggle we go through when we live with ED alone.“