Lisa works supporting people maintain changes around their drug and alcohol use at our Progress recovery service. She also delivers training and education in the community. Since lockdown she is now working across several projects, often providing, socially-distanced, face-to-face support for some of the most vulnerable people we are supporting.
Today, began with a trip to the COVID testing site at Marley playing fields. Upon entering I felt quite anxious and apprehensive at the fact that I was having a test and it may come back positive. Even though at Project 6, we are maintaining social distancing rules and wearing the appropriate PPE, it seems that every cough or cold symptoms could be the first signs of the virus. My colleague and I have both been tested due to the fact we both had various symptoms and had been working in pairs (cells) to reduce the risk to ourselves and our most vulnerable services users. Roll on Monday when we receive our results.
The results are in! So here I am, sat at home in front of my computer, heart racing and hands shaking, I finally open the email and one word jumps out at me, NEGATIVE!!!! I ring my colleague, and her test is negative too Hooray!!! The anxiety starts to subside, just in time for the online morning meeting. It is such a relief to see my colleague’s friendly faces. This has given me an insight into the relief our services users said they felt when they attended their first online groups and saw the faces of their friendly peers. It is wonderful to see how digital technologies have been so quickly integrated into Project 6, allowing crucial support to reach our services users.
It is now 4.30pm I have just finished facilitating the Smart Recovery group online. SMART Recovery is a program that provides training and tools for people who want to change their problematic behaviour. The programme uses a variety of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and motivational tools and techniques. Today we began with our normal weekly check in. Many of the group members stated that they were missing the structure of our recovery hub, Progress, and how isolating at home was having an impact on their recovery and mental health. One of the worse things for someone in recovery to do, is to isolate themselves. Project 6 is concernened we will see a spike in lapses and relapses, so it is vital that Project 6 continues to deliver as many services as possible.
An early start this morning! I am working on the frontline with some of our most vulnerable services users, Janet the manager of third place is already in the kitchen preparing a hot breakfast for the street drinkers. The food has been kindly donated from Morrison, Aldi, Marks & Spencer and concerned others; it just shows what can be achieved when communities pull together.
It has been quite a challenge, making adjustments to this service, to ensure we reduce the risk to services users and ourselves. Under normal circumstances, these services users would be inside the building. However, we now take the orders from behind the gate and check-in with each person, on a personal level, not an easy task when your 2 meters apart. We identify each person’s needs and support them in the best way we can in the current climate. Normally we provide a safe space with regular ongoing interventions. We remove barriers to their engagement and treatment, including ongoing interventions, harm reduction strategies to support individuals who are severely dependant on alcohol. The gratitude that these services users have shown, has been truly heart-wrenching.
Worked from home this morning, had a couple of 1-1s booked in via the telephone. I and other members of the team have all agreed that it can be difficult to gauge how a person is doing without that crucial face to face contact. Many of our service users are feeling the strain of lockdown reporting raised the level of anxiety and stress. Many of the users of our services do not have the means to a smartphone or the internet. However, as an organisation, we are doing our absolute best to raise funds so we can support their needs and provide some routine, not just at present but also for the future.
Keeping people engaged is a priority, not only for their recovery but also for their mental health and wellbeing. Psychiatrists are warning of a “tsunami” of mental illness from problems stored up during lockdown. The Mental-health charity, Rethink Mental Illness, said the concerns raised were supported by evidence from people living with mental illness. In a survey of 1,000 people, many said their mental health had got worse since the pandemic had started, due to the disruption to routines that keep them safe and well. In an article published in the guardian on the 16th of May, The Chief Executive of one Mental Health Trust said, “We are definitely seeing ‘people not known to services’ who are acutely unwell. They are mainly young men aged 18-25 who require admission. Misuse of alcohol and drugs is a factor. Taking all this into consideration, I believe that when the lock down is over, we will see an increase in people accessing our services.
Ashley works for our ASIST Team (Alcohol Specialist-Intervention Support Team) covering Keighley and surrounding area. The team works with people who are frequently attending hospital due to their alcohol use. They support individuals in the community to reduce their risky drinking behaviours that lead to readmission. Since lockdown Ashley also works out of our Needle Exchange, which remains open during the Covid-19 crisis every day from 1 pm-4:30 pm, allowing people to access free, clean and safe drug injecting paraphernalia and harm reduction equipment and information. She’s kept a diary documenting a week of working under lockdown.
It’s the start of another week working from home while trying to still support people in the best way I can. Since the lockdown began I haven’t been able to speak face to face to the people I work with. Usually I’d have been visiting people each week in their homes, so doing this work over the phone and by Zoom can really challenging.
This afternoon I’m doing at shift at the needle exchange run by Project 6 in Keighley. We began running the service again just before lockdown so there hasn’t been a chance to get a permanent member of staff in. Everyone who can is taking a turn to cover a couple of days a week. We provide new, clean needles and other harm reduction essentials to injecting drug users mostly. It’s a really important service as without it equipment already out in the community ends up being reused. This increases the dangers of passing on blood born infections and injecting injuries. We also give out life-saving naloxone, which are used to revive a person following an opiate overdose. I’m really enjoying it at the moment as it means I get an to get out of the house and see some people in real life.
We’ve been having our daily team meetings each morning over Zoom. It’s really helpful to check in with the rest of the staff, also a bit of a reminder of normality! My days are still busy (despite the fact I’m not driving out to visit people) carrying out the work I would usually do face-to-face with service users over the phone instead. I having phone contact with associated professionals and colleagues, and keeping on top of notes and reports.
A few of the people I’m supporting are really struggling at the moment. Isolation is having a really big impact on everyone. Alcohol sales have shot up across the country so it’s not just the people I’m working with. One person has told me they’re now buying spirits where they would usually have been drinking cider or wine, and this is increasing their daily intake of alcohol. Not being able to get to the shop as regularly and fears they might have sold out is starting to change people’s drinking habits. It’s really frustrating to feel like people are slipping back and the longer this continues the more difficult it is.
Despite this, there are some really positive stories coming through. Someone whom I’ve been working with a while has set up their own ‘home workout studio’ and is using the extra free time on focussing on getting fitter. Another has found that being forced to spend more time at home with family members has actually provided valuable distractions to drinking and this is helping her to succeed in her reduction plan.
Project 6 is continuing to deliver lots of its services using Zoom and online. It’s be really impressive to see how quickly we have adapted to this way of doing things. At the morning meeting staff are talking about some of the difficulties of delivering a group through a screen. Some of the people we work with aren’t very digitally experienced and this is a bit of a new world for them. Despite this it’s good to hear the weekly groups that were running before lockdown are still going with plenty of people still attending.
At the needle exchange again in the afternoon. We’ve been really busy, the other local needle exchange programmes in pharmacies have closed due to coronavirus but we’re still open to everyone every weekday from 1-4:30pm. As word has spread it feels like more people are using our service which is great, that’s what we’re there for!
Usually people would come in and we’d be able to speak to them about how they’re using drugs, offer them advice and help them to understand how to use their substance(s) of choice in the safest possible way. Sometimes those discussions can also help people to start thinking about reducing or stopping their use, or to consider accessing a prescription for a safer substitute therapy. Because its necessary at the moment to keep staff and service users safe by adhering to social distancing, we’re currently having to support people attending the needle exchange from the entrance only. We can’t have those private conversations out on the street, which means we are really limited to providing just the bare essentials at the moment. It’s really frustrating.
Really worryingly I’m starting to pick up more people reporting incidents of domestic abuse. Nationally there’s been an increase, more than 25% according to a Guardian report. It’s challenging trying to support people with that when you have to do it over the phone, particularly when the perpetrator is likely to be at home with the person within earshot, thus limiting what they feel able to say out loud. Body language can give clues to what’s going on for a person, but we can’t pick up on this over the phone, and its often not safe to send text messages to the person in case the perpetrator reads them. We work closely with partner organisations that we can refer people to who can provide that specialist support, Keighley Domestic Violence Service is a key one.
Managed to get one of the really vulnerable women I work with a 4G router so she can connect to the internet. This is a real lifeline for her, she’s incredibly isolated due to agoraphobia so I think it will help her enormously to be able to meet with me on Zoom; its not the same as me visiting her at home, but hopefully that connection of being able to see her worker over videocall will help her to feel less alone. It may help her connect with family members, too, and it’ll mean she also has access to a whole range of mental health and alcohol recovery support resources and groups. It does make me think of all the other people out there who might be completely cut off at the moment.