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  • Upbeat Liverpool

Time to Talk, Time To Connect

I’m stronger than the pandemic and I’m stronger than I think I am and we all are because we are all still here.

We’re aware that talking about mental health problems can be difficult and even feel scary. It can make us feel even more vulnerable. But the more we talk, the more we can feel a connection with other people and realise that those around us feel just as we do. It also gives us a chance to help each other through sharing what keeps us going through the most difficult times.

With all of this in mind we asked some of the folks who use our services to talk to us about their mental health and how the pandemic and the lockdowns have affected them. They also told us what has helped them to keep going and get through these incredibly difficult times.

I’m Diane and I come originally from London and both my parents suffered from severe mental health problems so I grew up strange and PSS saved my life.

My name’s Derek and I joined PSS in June 2019 with a long history of depression and as Diane said, PSS has saved my life and continues to do so on a daily and weekly basis.

Hi, I’m Gaynor. I’ve been using PSS or the past two years. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression all my life and have managed mostly by pretending it’s not there or by trying to be brave or resilient or trying to hide it. I got to a real place of crisis and when I was assessed by PSS for the first time I felt I was met with some sort of understanding and care so I’ve wanted to stay involved since. It’s been massive with the pandemic with things like weekly phone calls just to try to limit some of the extreme isolation.

As quickly as we could we developed the Upbeat Liverpool website which a lot of people contributed to – the design of it, the logo and the content.

I’m Matthew and I’ve been with PSS for two years and it’s amazing what a little bit of gardening once a fortnight does. But you can’t do that in lockdown.

I’m Annie. This is my 20th year working for PSS and I’ve been the Senior Practitioner with the Wellbeing Centres for about seven years now. It all happened so rapidly in March and the advice at the time was for everything to close. So within a couple of days we’d allocated a case load to each team member so that all the people we were supporting, which was over 250, would be supported.

We had to shut down the centres and prioritise people who were more isolated at that point. But at the time we had something called the Upbeat blog which was crammed full of useful and interesting stuff but wasn’t fit for purpose for what we needed now. So as quickly as we could we developed the Upbeat Liverpool website which a lot of people contributed to – the design of it, the logo and the content. And we moved everything on to there and carried on with our phone calls.

We also got some courses on there and we’ve got lots of Zoom activities like the singing, meditations, Open Mic, and lots of recorded information. So that was what the closing meant.

We did take new people or assessments – there was a steady stream of new people who we could point to the website but we couldn’t offer, say, an anxiety management course to new people initially. We had to focus on the people we were already supporting.

We re-opened in July. Initially it was for outdoor activities – meeting people for walks. We have a barn in Garston and that’s been great because it’s very easy to ventilate so we started relaxations and social support groups there straight away and that carried on all the way through until December and we didn’t necessarily see ourselves getting to this point again.

But with the increase in covid figures and the new variant, we were advised by the City Council at least, for the short term, to close the centres. We’re hoping to open up as soon as possible But it was so good to be able to open again in July just using the social distancing and doing all the extra cleaning and everybody stayed well.

Diane: Oh it was brilliant. I went to the meditation and it was the highlight of my fortnight. Getting out and getting on that train to get there and even though we were apart – and I’m partially deaf so I had to shout a bit - but it was lovely I could still talk to people and it was lovely seeing people out of a box - real life with legs!

Derek: It’s a place I think about going to in my mind’s eye when I want to relax. I think about going down there and I think about Spring and what it’s like down there and I can speak for a lot of people who aren’t on here – it’s their favourite place. That first time I went back in July I’m not ashamed to say it I had to go off for a little walk by myself and have a little cry. I cried my eyes out because I didn’t think I was going to see it again. It’s next to a train track and we all laugh about the trains going by but it’s quiet and it’s peaceful.

But it was so good to be able to open again in July just using the social distancing and doing all the extra cleaning and everybody stayed well.

Diane: The last event we all went to was singing in the barn. And normally we sing on Zoom and you can’t hear anyone so it was really lovely to hear everyone’s voices. I thought that after Christmas we’d all start coming to the barn more so it was really awful. And not everyone’s got internet or they have limited data and they can’t join Zoom so it’s really terrible for them.

The government should supply everyone with internet access. It’s lonely enough as it is but seeing people on Zoom and doing the Culture Vultures blog takes my time so that’s me all day and I couldn’t cope otherwise.

Gaynor: The biggest thing was having to adapt to it all of a sudden and people didn’t have the equipment or not knowing how to use it I and being in isolation and suddenly having to get those skills - and if you’re feeling very isolated and you’re struggling with anxiety, having to teach yourself those things when you weren’t feeling very familiar with them.

I have people in my life who are really struggling to know how to use technology or to be able to afford the basic thing whether it’s a smartphone or an iPad. So that became extreme at the beginning, it certainly added to my anxiety about how to I use this technology. And then worrying about people we can’t have contact with. That became extreme for me at the beginning, worrying about older relatives and friends and trying to manage what was happening for myself within that. Was it ok to go out and where could we go? The information was quite confusing and has continued to be. I think the world will have a greater understanding of anxiety and depression than they ever did. But that had a double bind for someone like myself.

I hope if anything people have a better appreciation of anxiety and depression.

When this first happened I felt a huge amount of shame and guilt about what I was experiencing because there was so much information coming at us about people who were isolated, who were ill, who were dying. There was this frantic stuff going on so with the wellbeing centres being closed and that being a safe place for the first time for me to talk to people about this sort of thing, suddenly I felt really guilty about even talking to members of my family and friends who were experiencing what I’d tried to manage for most of my life. So I felt a lot of guilt in saying I’m not managing very well with my isolation and my moods because they were facing job losses, their own fear, how they were going to home school. I’ve got a mum and dad who are not together but are older and quite fragile with issues and one of them has extreme difficulties using technology. So it’s been a rollercoaster really.

I hope if anything people have a better appreciation of anxiety and depression because the world’s experiencing it now, and it won’t just be a paper thing when it’s World Mental Health Day. People have been living with this forever and a day and now the world is talking about it and we should talk about it without that shame.

Diane: I got help when I got older but I might have been a different person if I’d got help when I was younger. There are a lot of younger people being furloughed – my son is stuck in his room and only comes out for food. It just seems so unfair. At least I feel I’ve done something with my life and he’s suffering bit with depression and I imagine many younger people are.

Derek: Before lockdown Life for me was hard enough without the pandemic; suffering with depression, living alone coming out of a failed relationship, no love in my life and no real friends to speak of. I thought, I’ll just plod on until something happens and then the pandemic happens and those feelings all get exacerbated and you feel even worse.

But coming from someone who has suffered with depression all his life and has suicidal thoughts on a daily basis even when I’m feeling really happy that comes back to me tenfold that I’m stronger than the pandemic and I’m stronger than I think I am and we all are because we are all still here.

And you’re right Gaynor, during the first lockdown I felt so guilty that people were dying and so guilty that I didn’t want to say anything to people who weren’t wearing masks and weren’t doing as they were told and listening to rubbish on the internet and false truths and not believing actual facts which was detrimental to my mental health.

But coming back to the actual lockdown I found the lack of cars on the road, people staying indoors - I was appreciating that break and people not being as busy in their lives it made me take a look back at myself and go, ok this is going to be for the better. As Gaynor’s just said, people who’ve never had depression in their lives, never even had a single thought about mental health were now turning to me going what do you do, how do you do it, how can I help? I think our in our services and others in the next 12 months there’s going to be epidemic proportions of mental health so these kind of interviews are so essential to get it out there that people aren’t alone and make them aware of these services.

The positive things for me were the UpbeatLiverpool site.

I know people have said it’s highlighted the depth of stuff that’s already going on, the stuff around the lack of opportunities for people to access things readily, people who are already isolated, who haven’t got money who are already struggling with depression and anxiety.

The pandemic if anything has just put a big spotlight on all those things and if we can come out of this sane and kinder then maybe we can appreciate that those things do need seeing for what they really are - that people as a right deserve to get food in their belly, be able to access things other people just take for granted and whether that’s care and understanding around things that they’re struggling with or practical things like a roof over their head, food in their belly even if it’s a laptop or a smartphone.

Matthew: There are still people that struggle with fuel bills through the winter. I have a smart meter and as soon as I put the heating on for an hour it goes up to, ‘Your spend will be £60 this month’. So you tend to live without central heating as well when you’re on low incomes.

I didn’t think I’d get to 45 and be this lonely.

Derek: I didn’t think I’d get to 45 and be this lonely. Even in my darkest days of being a young boy and a teenager and even in my twenties, flying high and living life to the full I didn’t think I’d be this lonely. It’s probably the hardest thing - it’s a killer. I always thought my depression would get me but loneliness…

I lost my mum 6 years ago this year and that year I split up with my wife. And since then I’ve never wanted to go out for a drink. I’m four months today without having a drink so I’m patting myself on the back today. And that was another thing about lockdown - I never saw myself getting to this age and having to go to a foodbank and with Annie’s help I got some food delivered and there was a shame about thatA and I didn’t want to go to my dad or my sister and say things are this bad. So I relied on PSS and they were brilliant. But going to a foodbank - it just felt so out of my character. But things change and we do have to adapt but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that’s the thing I’m keeping myself focussed on.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that’s the thing I’m keeping myself focussed on.

Matthew: Annie was responsible for us getting food parcels early on and it was invaluable that service.

Gaynor: There have been some real positives and for me the phone support was a life saver for me when I was going through not managing, because if you’re in isolation and you’re dealing with difficulties and you’re in a pandemic what needs to be emphasised is our ability to access things freely was extremely limited. And for people who are struggling with abuse, isolation, fear of any kind - it’s just massive. It exacerbates those things.

The positive things for me were the UpbeatLiverpool site. Diane does the Culture Vultures blog which is brilliant. There is singing on a weekly basis, there’s photography, poetry, there’s Open Mic, there’s ukulele, there’s walking and gardening groups when that’s available, art groups. Bee keeping will be starting and lots of gardening groups starting soon.

And there are also mental health courses and when people can’t access them yet because they’re not a member, they’re broken down on the website and any member of the public can access the website. There’s anxiety management and the lifting mood course that was a life saver to me in the summer.

The phone support was a life saver for me when I was going through not managing.

Diane: They’ve got a lot of meditations on there as well that are marvellous.

Gaynor: I’ve done a lot of those meditations at 3 o’clock in the morning when I’ve really struggled because they’re always available.

Diane: And we’ve got a ukulele group. We all help each other and we’ve got two songs in the bag which we’ve written and produced ourselves and we’re on our third and I never thought I’d ever do that. But it’s brilliant, fantastic.

Matthew: It’s something to look forward to each week.

Huge thanks to everyone who took part in this interview. It highlights what we all know – feeling connected is key to coping with the most difficult events. We are reminded of what we share, of what matters, of the strength we didn’t always know we had. It reminds us that we can carry on until the good times return.

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