"It quickly became apparent that people’s mental health was being affected by COVID-19."
Chief Executive of COPE Scotland, Hilda Campbell, impresses that her organisation is about building an idea, not an empire. Opening in 1991, the charity has since been supporting people’s mental wellbeing in the west Glasgow area and beyond by utilising face to face support and online channels. When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to have an impact on our lives, COPE drew on previous strategies to quickly adapt to new circumstances.
Already set up with operational plans for crisis points such as bad weather, COPE decided early on to move their face to face work to support via phone. Crucial to the organisation was that they could continue to work with those already accessing services but also work with people who were now finding themselves in difficulty due to COVID-19.
Although the transition was relatively straightforward in many ways, Hilda recognised that there were drawbacks to the new phone-based system. Where people were not immediately able to get through to COPE they were required to leave an answerphone message and Hilda felt this meant people were falling through the gaps. In order to engage in a more direct manner with people, COPE has tapped into its network of community partners including the Drumchapel COVID Working Group and the Yoker G13, G14 Community Hub. Community partners engaging face to face with people began identifying people who may be struggling with their mental wellbeing and referred them in a more direct manner to COPE who could then proactively reach out to the individuals.
Hilda notes that while for many people initial challenges were around work, other health challenges, finances and food, it quickly became apparent that people’s mental health was being affected by COVID-19 and that is where the links with community groups proved fruitful. Hilda comments that the support COPE is providing is proving to be successful: “We’ve co-developed guided work books, people are journaling more because it’s something to do as well as co-designing new tips sheets specifically in response to COVID19. For example, tips to cope when life feels strange and tips for helping create a healthy routine. We are also working with the ALLIANCE, the voices of lived experience and others, to co-design a tips sheet pointing out the hazards of gambling as an unhelpful coping strategy and where help is available.
“There are some people who are actually working through their issues and coping strategies for COVID-19 really well. In terms of self management, they want to take that control of their lives where they can. That group of people are really embracing tools and tips which may be of use. However, it also needs to be recognised that some people need someone to listen compassionately as this alone can help people suffer less.”
COPE’s response is about more than operational changes, however. It is also about tapping into further supports given the circumstances people now find themselves in. Hilda points out that certain areas of life have become more precarious for people and that in areas such as domestic abuse, and other relationship challenges, one main factor was providing signposting for people on to further organisations that can provide specific support. There are also new challenges of coping with grief during social isolation. COPE published a piece on this on their website (this link will take you away from our website) and continue to respond to the new issues people are facing seeking to find solutions which help people suffer less.
As in any crisis, there is learning to be made and Hilda is keen to harness the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic to inform COPE’s practices in the future. On working on a phone-based system, Hilda states that it works well for many people as it adds flexibility in terms of people not having to take time out to travel to and from appointments. People can work around childcare and at present some support is being offered later in the evening when children have gone to bed as it has been difficult for parents, while the children have been home, to discuss issues on the phone. However, there is also a wariness around this as an overall future strategy: “You need to be careful that you don’t further widen inequalities with people being out of the digital loop, or not having a phone.”
Hilda and her organisation are passionate about the work they do in supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing in the community. To supplement her other work Hilda now sends a morning email out to a growing list of people with wellbeing tips and information on how to cope during COVID-19 and is delighted with the feedback. People are sharing these tips with work colleagues and family and friends. It is this personal touch that provides essential support to many at such an unsettling time. COPE realises we all have a state of mental health which at times can be challenged and COVID 19 is a challenge to our mental health.
This is the type of action that typifies COPE Scotland and their commitment to reaching out to individuals even in the most pressing of circumstances as well as sharing tips and tools and materials people can share with friends and families.
Important to Hilda is her take on leadership: “Leaders don’t only exist in large companies, they exist in the living rooms of our homes all over the country when someone shares their anxiety, someone else listens and when the person is ready to hear it and offers accurate information or advice which helps build that person’s confidence that leaves them feeling better and more able to cope with the challenges COVID19 is bringing. COPE Scotland’s philosophy is very much what WE can do together is what makes the real change happen.”
This article was produced with written input from Hilda Campbell.