Challenges to our wellbeing – physical and mental – reached exceptional levels in the past year
As we all worked through the immediate tests of lockdown and the impact of ongoing restrictions, charities providing support to individuals who were feeling the effects had to adapt, quickly, to this radical change in circumstances that fundamentally affected their model of service provision.
And for the people delivering those services, finding ways to maintain the vital support that so many were relying on was an additional challenge at a time when the pandemic was challenging us all.
For Jersey Recovery College, though, the outcome has been a new way for students to access courses providing hope, opportunity and empowerment in the face of mental health difficulties, and a lesson in creativity, teamwork and resilience for the small team who have been running the charity and its services for the past four years.
Pre-Covid Jersey Recovery College was providing in-person education, tools and skills to manage mental health. During lockdown the team worked at lightning speed to convert their courses to online delivery, complimenting listening, therapeutic and peer support provided by other agencies on-island and offering continuity when other services were suspended.
"When everything around us is uncertain we need strong strategies to cope," said JRC Executive Officer Beth Moore. "At the start of the pandemic people felt more panicked, afraid and hopeless. We know from research that between March and June 2020 depression rates in adults doubled."
JRC delivered its first ever virtual course, Understanding and Managing Anxiety just three weeks after the Island went into lockdown. Later in the year JRC’s virtual Summer Semester 2020 delivered 70 hours of education on recovery, mental health and wellbeing – free – to nearly 100 people. The majority were experiencing mental health difficulties and the rest were families supporting a loved one and mental health professionals.
The quick turnaround of this new virtual service, from conception to delivery, in the height of a pandemic, was a remarkable achievement.
Beth explained: "We tailored our existing curriculum to support Islanders coping with uncertainty, isolation and illness. Our self-referral courses included resilience, recovery, depression, anxiety, emotional coping skills, and mindfulness, and one new course - Understanding and Managing Fear and Stress."
The virtual service has now become a recurring component of JRC’s community service, with virtual courses now programmed each semester alongside classroom courses, accommodating students who wouldn’t be able to attend in-person, perhaps due to anxiety or childcare needs and, indeed, works better for a proportion of students.
"It also provides service sustainability when classroom delivery is not possible, which has built new resilience into JRC's service provision for the future," said Beth.
Virtual delivery required a new online platform and training not just for those delivering the courses but also for students to become familiar with the technology before courses. Policies and processes had to be updated for the virtual environment.
Beth said: "We did extensive research into how best to deliver online courses and adapted eight existing courses for virtual delivery including changing timings and formats as well as rethinking student engagement and activities."
As part of a network of Recovery Colleges in the UK, JRC shared their learning, not just in how to set up and run virtual courses but also how to overcome the challenges this fundamental change in approach can create, including how to create a safe space, encourage sharing and connection, and protecting privacy.
How did students react? 91% of students reported that these courses increased their positivity for the future (hope), confidence/direction (empowerment) and connection with others (opportunity).
For the JRC team, the experience of creating this virtual service has really demonstrated the power of teamwork.
Beth said: "The pandemic was a catalyst for our team to demonstrate creativity, capability and resilience. This project connected us at a time when our usual ways of connection were unavailable."
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