Family and Carer Support Service
A story by Falkirk and District Association for Mental Health
We provided activities and training courses to support carers and their families. There were art groups, mindfulness training courses, education courses, and breaks within our centre. This allowed carers opportunities to get a break and to meet others in similar situations.
The Family and Carer Support Service is a successful part of FDAMH who offer a wide range of quality services to the local community, one-to-one support, regular support groups and carers education and training courses.
What Family and Carer Support Service did
Existing staff were in place and allowed one part time family support worker to dedicate their time to organising the activities, arranging venue, liaison with trainers, facilitators, external agencies and supporting carers. 3 sessional workers were involved in the courses delivered.
The activities, training and outings were publicised in the local press, to local carers organisations and circulated electronically to all on our data base, e.g. GP surgeries, community centres, associated professionals and within our own client group.
Posters were circulated outlining activity/courses, there date, duration, location and aims and objectives for the training courses. Workers contact details were included to offer interested participants a fuller explanation of what to expect as well as a welcome, get to know us meeting.
Our programme offered respite in the form of 2 art groups, 1 mindfulness training course and 1 mindfulness reconnect course, and 1 education course and the breaks all took place within our centre. There timing where over evenings and daytime to accommodate carers ability to access these at times that suit. For some activities this was training in mindfulness over 6 weeks x 2, for others it was relaxation or interest in art in different forms/media over 6 weeks x 2. 65 carers benefited from the Respite Activities and 34 were new to our organisation.
What people said about the activities/courses includes, mindfulness reconnect participant - “The original mindfulness group I attended a few years ago was really special and I saw this as a further opportunity to grow and I wasn't disappointed"
Education participant- “I wish I had come earlier- before reaching total despair, the course has given me so much support, understanding and no longer feel alone”.
Art participant –“Before starting the class I was really apprehensive about joining this class but wanted the challenge of trying something different. These classes have been really amazing, best 2 hours each week and really giving therapeutic results, totally switched off mentally - fantastic feeling
Jim is a 38 year old Scottish father of 2, his partner Julie suffers from depression and anxiety. Jim came to our immediate help service at his wits end and was overwhelmed and struggling to live at home, with his wife, children and his employment. Jim was referred to the Family/ Carers Service by the Immediate help service worker in Falkirk District Association Mental Health.
One to one work found Jim's relationship was breaking down as he had tried everything he knew to support his wife of around 20 years on his initial education course evaluation "tool" he put an interesting comment “The tree did not have a place/figure that was walking away!” a concerning comment and admit that i had a concern that the education course could in fact be a "make or break" for this relationship a feeling echoed by the immediate help worker and his comment.
However as his final comment at the end of course suggested he had came through this very stressful episode unscathed and very enriched by his education course experience. “I wasn’t sure how this journey would turn out but feel it’s like I came during a storm & was taken to where the rainbow ends” ”I have never attended anything like this before and wasn’t aware of this centre. I would like to see some kind of “awareness” on social media like Twitter/Face book to highlight the benefits”
As these 2 comments suggested there was indeed a journey for Jim and he went from presenting as initially very skeptical and questioning of the facilitators, which i find can build trust if one can work through the process of supporting someone to reach "the end of the rainbow". to his credit Jim became an active participant and acknowledged within the group that perhaps his "Mr fix-it" style of helping was maybe part of the problem not the solution.
We have had little contact with Jim since he finished the course although we did offer him a place on the mindfulness course he had to decline as he now had added carer responsibilities as his father was ill with cancer. I suspect and hope he knows the door to our service is still open for him and his family.
By offering new perspectives and Models of Thinking. Behaving and Feeling about their unique situation people can learn more effectively in dealing with stressors in their lives. The courses are designed to create a culture and environment of safety, tools and resources to facilitate the development of skills, knowledge and experience to enhance motivation and enable positive change.
Jill is a 43 year old year old Scottish mother of 2 teenage boys, both have mental health conditions and have had suicidal Ideation. Jill separated from her husband a number of years ago. Her ex partner suffered from Bi-polar disorder and Jill had struggled for years with her own depression and caring roles.
Jill first came into contact with our services a few years ago and participated in our education course, at the time social services were involved as she was struggling to cope with 2 young boys of 13 & 15 having ADHD, Asperger’s and had voiced suicidal ideation. Social Service later suggested that the boys be placed with their father as Jill was not coping and was struggling to care for them both. This was not obviously an overnight process and was played out over a few years. Jill attended our support group and mindfulness training for carers, previously funded by Creative Breaks. I include her feedback from the mindfulness reconnect course run this year and funded by Creative Breaks.
“Thoughts, feelings, behaviours- evaluation for mindfulness. When I heard I would be attending the mindfulness ‘re-connect’ I was delighted. The original mindfulness group I attended a few years ago, was really special. We had openly discussed in detail how the mindfulness had made a difference in our lives and our outlook. I saw this as a further opportunity to grow, and I wasn’t disappointed. The mindfulness meditations that we shared were built around loving kindness from a model by Paul Gilbert. This felt like we were taking mindfulness to the next level and adding an extra dimension to our previous learning.
When going through the various meditations I felt that it was really useful for uncovering what was underneath emotionally. The exercise where you are visualising a friend, a neutral person and a difficult person, etc. was initially a challenge. It made me realise that we are all one, and once that realisation had kicked in, I remember feeling a deep sense of gratitude. It was clear to me how much the group value mindfulness, both collectively and individually. The group work allowed us to explore our own situations using mindfulness as a tool to connect with ‘what lies beneath’. I found this very useful as I realised that if we don’t let go of things then we will never be able to tap into what ‘lies under the surface’.
The breathing and the types of meditation, allowed us to let go of emotions in a safe space and explore a bit deeper. I feel that this class was a chance to examine ‘where we were’, in greater depth. We already had the foundations of mindfulness from the previous course and, our subsequent practice has enriched the experience.
I think that it gave me the opportunity to recognise what was happening for me emotionally. I gave myself permission to feel emotions that I had pushed down for a long time and hadn’t allowed myself to feel. Embracing these emotions was empowering for me, and allowing me to think a bit more creatively about myself and my relationships. Some of this was emotionally disarming to begin with, but I realise it was just the adjustment from letting go, and after it I felt a lot lighter. I read out some poems in the group, and it made me realise that I was connecting more with the words and that I wasn’t holding back emotionally, as I would have in the past.
This was quite a big deal for me, I lost my singing voice years ago during a difficult period in my life, and I never felt that I had got it back. This has given me hope that one day it might return even in a small way would be a great achievement (I can feel my chest constricting as I type this) So yes, what appeared on the surface to be a mindfulness course was way more than you could imagine. I know that the rest of the group felt that too, with regard to their own learning and the shared group connection. Thanks Neil and Louise for a unique learning experience that I wholeheartedly appreciate beyond words.”
I will also include an email from Jill which very clearly outline’s the tremendous strides she has taken to both keep herself and those she carers for mentally and emotionally well. Hi Neil, thanks for taking the time to respond with your observations. I really appreciate that and it is helpful for me to hear. Yes, allowing myself to sit with the emotions has been a revelation and I feel I have rediscovered a part of myself that I wouldn’t allow to surface because I had been hurt on such a deep level. It comes back to the ‘guest house’ I think when I realised that I was not inviting ‘them’ in. I’m not keeping them at the door now, they are crossing the threshold and no longer have the power over me that they once did! Embracing them as opposed to fearing them, I suppose as I am no longer held emotional hostage.
It’s a work in progress ha ha but one that I can say I now welcome. Thanks for being a part of that, you have been the vehicle that has allowed me to make this transition which started with the education course. This has been a gift and a blessing for me, sincere thanks, Jill
I have included the Poem by Jalaluddin Rumi which Jill read in in class and as participants are invited to take part as a learning for them. The Guest House, this being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes, As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Jill’s Warwich-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale moved from 26 to 39 during the 6 week course. Jill now has one of her boys staying with her and the other lives in his own flat and importantly she now has a great relationship with them both. In broad terms the themes of the mindfulness course were to support the adjustment towards an optimistic attitude, improve problem solving, foster positive social supports.
The three main elements that focused the delivery of the course were a structure, an opportunity to reflect, an invitation to gain insights. The courses overarching aim is to help people cope with the psychological challenges that can arise from a caring role. Helping people recognise and respond more skilfully to patterns of thinking that create and sustain emotional distress and to cultivate and develop healthier life style choices, decisions and relationships. This was facilitated by an experienced trainer having delivered 14 course within the NHS and privately and has attended mindfulness courses and retreats for over 7 years.
Clare had came into our center with her 15 year old son and his teacher, he had been having difficulties at his school and was talking about harming himself and worse of taking his own life. Clare is 45 and a single working mum. She was quite obviously in distress and whilst one worker talked with the son i engaged her and discussed her concern, it was apparent she was overwhelmed with the demands of her son and whilst he was registered with our counselling service Clare was taken on by our Family/Carer support service and offered a place on the upcoming art class.
Although, as her comments suggested she was apprehensive she gained space and respite for herself, to the extent she signed up for another challenge and has since become a valued volunteer with Falkirk District Association Mental Health. Perhaps an indication of how a lone carer can become isolated, lost and spiral into dark places where her abilities to care for her son had been stretched beyond her capacity. In discussions with Clare it was obvious she was a caring, compassionate and able individual who had lost their way and the art class was a way to give her time, space, enjoyment and company to regain her own sense of perspective.
She had simply lost her confidence and in ways her own identity as a person in her own right. From the course she came to understand that she must make and take time for herself and that she could cope and thrive in her role and in fact learn from her own experiences. The art group came at the right time for her to reclaim her back her life. thankfully the counselling has helped her son and he to seems to have moved from his own dark place. An email outlines part of her "story"
Apologies i have just seen this email, unsure how missed it? received your message , many thanks for that, sorry did mean to contact you today, but somehow ran out of spare time,got quite alot on right now with house move, and dealing with dads flat selling next week new buyers take it over.
Things seem alot calmer, J seems fairly stable at the moment, and we seem to be building the trust up again and managing better communications, so all good. I certainly feel as though have much better understanding of Jack now and am conscious not to try suffocate him as know he similar to me and although is very social he also needs his own space to unwind etc.
Life is bit hectic just now and having dad staying now, it can feel more difficult to relax as older generation just do not realise how much work is involved, but hey we get there, and i know we all have something in our lives at times. I was actually in Falkirk District Association Mental Health last Wednesday as I enquired about volunteering, as feel I really want to do something worthwhile for me away from my family matters etc, had a really good chat and am in tomorrow to meet with Michelle i think it is? i think it will be really good in helping me feel worthy too, I am in tomorrow at 3pm so unsure if you around after for quick catch up? if not i am can usually manage afternoons (apart from Tuesday & Fridays) just let me know when suits you, and many thanks again for your care.
What Falkirk and District Association for Mental Health has learnedAs the case examples have, we believe, evidenced there can be transformation and opportunities from crisis, whether it is respite in the form of a training course or an art group. Despite having close connections with some of the participants and in particular Jill we are constantly amazed at the level of learning people gain from, either education or just a little bit of space for ourselves. In my understanding the Creative Breaks/Respite and examples brought highlight how much value can be gained from offering people time for them and the magic that can happen in the process. Like a pebble in the pond creates many ripples and have been grateful to have witnessed these first hand.
This is important as a local organisation our reputation is paramount and offering people the best experience we can will secure our future and the more services we provide the better served is our community, for example the respite activities just delivered. As Clare demonstrated Falkirk District Association Mental Health has recruited a new volunteer. which is good for our organisation. As Jim's testimony said he did not know Falkirk District Association Mental Health existed but now has first hand experience of who we are, what we do and how we do it.
Challenges! I was disappointing we could not fully match the funding application carer numbers and suspect we did not place enough emphasis, time or effort into engaging the statutory sector, ie local hospitals and social services. It is my opinion that face to face meeting with referrers is far more effective in publicising the breaks for carers than emails, advert, or poster and the word of mouth is the most powerful to engage communities.
Again we found it difficult to engage carers from ethnic minorities and have no real solution to offer here. the planning of events must be done early and we did run over on the time scales as our premises and work force has expanded over this year which left us in difficulties accessing space for the groups. we would next time have to gain accommodation outside to make sure we completed the desired course within the time scales. We attracted new carers by advertising the respite activities widely, by speaking with other carer forums, by local press releases, through our electronic newsletter, our data base of professional contacts and by word of mouth.