23rd September 2020 Collage of photography
Occupational therapists on the Coolock and Darndale Community Mental Health Teams brought together both service users and team members to form a photography group to tackle isolation and build morale in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions and despite limited resources available.
As indoor and outdoor face-to-face groups had and still are discontinued due to increased risks, the occupational therapists decided to go digital in engaging their service users.
By chatting with service users and team members, it became obvious that there was a keen interest in doing something creative. It was acknowledged that many clients had little access to resources due to limited funds. A decision was made to create a photography group as this would enable clients to use their smartphones to take pictures and use their email address, all of which was determined to be available to all. Participants were able to self-refer through the community mental health team’s monthly newsletter or team-members were able to refer.
The group ran for 10 weeks. Every Wednesday, clients received a new theme of the week and a collage of their submissions based on the theme from the week before.
“The themes centered on areas of need. A large emphasis was placed on the promotion of gratitude as evidence has found it can assist with improvements in mood and reduce feelings of isolation. A further aim of the group was to encourage clients to begin to engage with their outdoor environment,” explained Paula Maher, one of the occupational therapists in Coolock.
“Gratitude and community engagement were promoted through themes such as things that make me smile, city scenes, and nature. The weekly theme areas were broad and client-centered, allowing participants to express their own personal experiences and diversity. Accessible language with pictorial prompts was used within the email to promote understanding and engagement in the email due to literacy concerns.”
Paula said the group was formed because of the toll COVID-19 was having on people’s mental health across the nation.
“People have been dealing with the impact of social isolation with an exasperation of anxiety and depression symptoms. These difficulties were prominent within the community mental health teams in Coolock and Darndale. Service users reported experiencing increased levels of social isolation, reduced engagement in meaningful occupation, increased low mood, and limited routine structure. Overall, people were feeling alone with these feelings, with no ability to share. These difficulties were also identified within the team due to the impact of remote working, limited contact with service users and other staff, and discontinuation of face-to-face multi-disciplinary teams,” she said.
The occupational therapists sought to create a group that would aim to promote the wellness of their service users and staff whilst protecting their health and safety. It was determined that completing a group that included both clients and team may assist in maintaining therapeutic relationships.
Feedback was sought formally and informally. As the group was completed digitally, the participant survey was adapted to be completed online. Positive outcomes for service users and team members included participant satisfaction with the group identified in the online survey, development of new leisure occupations and computer/photography skills, improved mood, improved work atmosphere, increased time outdoors, and a sense of connectedness