Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Powys Dementia Network - first online event!

by Sue Newham, Health & Wellbeing Engagement Officer

It was great to have 26 people attending the online Dementia Network event on 15th July. It seemed to go very well. 20 people filled in the post event evaluation and said it was either excellent or very good. Three people tried but were unable to attend because of technology issues.

People started by showing an object that linked with their lockdown experience. Gill used a pickaxe to create a new flowerbed on a steep slope and Mark's bucket full of nails, bolts and DIY bits was finally sorted out during lockdown!

These videos featuring people living with dementia and their carers were shown:

Life in Lockdown (6.5 minutes)

In 'Life in Lockdown' four people living with dementia speak with Dr Jennifer Roberts from the Dementia Services Development Centre. They talk about both the difficulties and and the upsides of Covid isolation. You can find out more here.

Yn 'Life in Lockdown' mae pedwar o bobl sy'n byw gyda dementia yn siarad รข Dr Jennifer Roberts o Ganolfan Ymchwil DSDC. Maent yn siarad am anawsterau ac anfanteision ynysu Covid. Gallwch ddarganfod mwy yma.

Frannie's lockdown story (10 minutes)

Shirley's lockdown story  (5.5 minutes)

These videos by Dementia Matters in Powys and their service users were shown:

DMiP Service User Review (8 minutes)

What we offer - DMiP Staff (4.5 minutes)

What people thought about the online Dementia Network

Comments about what people liked about the event included:

“Virtual friendship and enthusiasm of everyone.”

“I felt that people spoke very freely, despite or maybe because of the online setting.”

“Got a chance to exchange more ideas than we have at physical meetings.”

When asked about what to change for next time, more discussion group time was mentioned, along with having more people with dementia organising it. Most people felt that the length of the meeting was about right.

People discussed “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” of the Covid 19 crisis


  • Many people enjoyed having more time for gardening, hobbies and spending time with family.
  • Technology was mentioned as a learning point and virtual meetings as a good way to keep in touch with family and friends. Many felt they had got to know people better through using virtual meetings.
  • People expressed pleasure in being at home, seeing more of partners and immediate family.
  • Some people who were working were happy about working at home and travelling less, feeling that less travel gave them more time to meet clients’ needs.
  • People working or volunteering for third sector organisations had seen a big increase in people volunteering, as well as in referrals.
  • People mentioned strong community spirit as a real benefit of the situation.
  • Getting outdoors, including gardening was enjoyed by many and felt to be good for wellbeing.
  • A few people mentioned learning new skills or doing online courses.
Bad – things which were difficult or frustrating, but bearable
  • Cancellation of planned trips or events.
  • Shielding, social distancing and unclear Covid rules.
  • Reduction of some statutory services and support, so there was not the same level of support coming into the home.
  • Trying to get supermarket delivery slots was frustrating for many, as was shopping in person for those with sensory impairment.
  • Being confined at home with several others was a frustration for some.
  • The lack of family visits or not seeing family was difficult, including those living in care homes or shielding.
  • Greater pressure on carers affected both those with older relatives to care for and parents looking after children. Many didn’t get any time off and found they were needing to take a lead where other services had been involved before.
  • Technology was less of a positive aspect where poor internet was involved, and affected both service users and some staff working from home. Some people struggled with confidence around using tablets, laptops or smartphones to access meetings.
  • Not being able to go to funerals upset some participants.
  • For some people, having to carry on working outside the home put them under a lot of pressure.
  • Service providers expressed sadness and frustration about clients they had not been able to connect with. They felt that for some services, you need face to face to be able to really understand the support that is needed.
Ugly - things that were very difficult to cope with
  • Lack of tolerance and people getting angry.
  • Lack of physical contact and hugs.
  • Fear of the unknown and future economic uncertainty.
  • Not being able to visit family and elderly parents.
  • Had toothache all lockdown and no services to go to.
  • Not being able to visit dying loved one.
  • Those living with dementia have suffered from lack of contact and their condition has deteriorated through lockdown.
  • Increased pressure on carers.
  • It was difficult to accept the isolation that some clients were facing.
The second discussion group was about things we would like to “Keep, Chuck or Change” as we move forward


People wanted to keep the increased use of technology for keeping in touch, the closer community spirit and support, the better work/ life balance and the networking between grass roots groups and services.


  • The virus! We all hope for a vaccine.
  • Queues.
  • Technology was felt to be very beneficial, but there needs to be more user friendly tech, more training and support for those who lack confidence, more emphasis on people being equipped for virtual meetings and better broadband coverage so rural communities don’t get left behind.
  • There was concern for people with dementia who also have sensory loss, and the need to develop more proactive ways of reaching out to them and supporting them.
  • The expansion of Dementia Friendly Communities across the county would help to raise awareness of dementia. People living with dementia may forget about social distancing or forget to wear masks.
  • There is a role for “crisis experts” to be employed to help people deal with sudden, traumatic and unexpected crises. In a crisis, it’s difficult to make sense of all the information and to know how to access support.
  • People felt that non-digital information such as leaflets, and mobile services such as Post Offices and Libraries were an important lifeline.
If you didn't attend this Dementia Network meeting and want to be included on the mailing list, please contact Sue Newham by emailing sue.newham@pavo.co.uk

Thanks to Dementia Matters in Powys for providing the technical support for the event and for liaising with members to get their input. DMiP staff have worked with PAVO to ensure that this event is relevant and informative for those living with dementia, their carers and organisations offering support. Diolch yn fawr.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Small Steps adapting to Covid-19

by guest author Diane Williams
Project Manager, Rekindle

Rekindle's Small Steps Project enjoys a challenge, and this was put to the test with the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown commencing in March. At the start of the lockdown period we recognised some of our current clients were living alone or estranged from family members. We were able to prepare clients for the possible lockdown and were kept busy ensuring they had enough food and medication to reduce any panic. We continued to remain open ensuring we could do so safely following government guidelines to keep everyone safe.

We have worked tirelessly to support every person who has needed it throughout the lockdown, with no two days being the same. Every person who has contacted Small Steps, be it by telephone or visiting our office, has received the support they required. We have turned no one away. 

Despite our criteria being 16 - 25 years old we have allowed some flexibility, with the eldest person to receive our support being 84 years old and shielding. Our support has included a listening ear, support through a crisis, shopping and collecting and delivering medication. We even helped to fix a dog pen to prevent her dog getting free.

It has been a challenging time for everyone with a number of clients experiencing feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety. Without a safe office environment to visit their mental health may have deteriorated further. We recognised not everyone feels comfortable speaking on the phone, or doing a video call, so it has enabled anyone struggling to cope with a mental health concern or a practical problem, no matter what age, to call in and receive the support they need. 

We are looking forward to returning to some normality, for now though we will keep smiling and look forward to each new day whatever it may bring.

Quotes from Small Steps' clients

“During Covid-19 and lockdown Small Steps helped prevent me from being homeless and doing something unpredictable. I was able to avoid being a victim of domestic violence and was able to give my wife the space she needed. 

Before I received support from Small Steps I would not have managed in such a calm manner. I would have acted irresponsiblly, ensuring I get arrested, as this was all I knew to ensure a place to stay and prevent me sleeping on the streets. 

I have gained a different way to cope, remembering to follow and use different coping techniques, and if that does not help I am able to contact Diane or Kemal or a peer support who I can talk to without being judged, and I always feel understood and listened to."

Anon - (24)

“Small Steps have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic no matter how big or small the situation. I myself am incrediblly thankful that they remained open during these difficult times for everyone. 

Diane and Kemal came to see me out of hours on a Sunday after experiencing a domestic violence incident. Without having them to speak to, and keep me positive and my hopes up, finding me a place to stay along with a food parcel, I genuinely don’t know what sort of situation or head space I would be in at present. 

I am forever grateful that this charity exists, I don’t have any family support since being estranged from them so in some way I consider Small Steps to be my second family.”

P.B (19)

Rekindle's Small Steps Project works with younger people aged 16 to 25 in North Powys to offer early intervention for those at risk of mental health problems or those already suffering mental distress such as depression, anxiety or who are self-harming.

Find out more on the charity's website or Facebook pages. You can also ring: 01686 722222 or email: hello@smallsteps.wales

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Life after alcohol addiction - Russell & Kaleidoscope Project Powys

The headline news in the County Times earlier this year read: “Champion boxer turns life around after fight against addiction”.

Russell Pearce from Welshpool is the boxer behind the headline, and following his own recovery journey from alcohol addiction has recently taken on a new role as an Engagement & Support Worker with Kaleidoscope, working to support people who have a drug and / or alcohol dependency in Powys.

We asked Russell to tell us more about his recovery journey, his role at Kaleidoscope and what support is available in Powys for people struggling with drug and alcohol misuse.

Tell us more about the work you do at Kaleidoscope Powys

I’m the first point of contact for most people when they first come in. I do the referral for them and the initial assessment. Referrals then go to the team meetings where people are allocated to a key worker.

When I do my assessments of people I always tell them a bit about my background because they are often nervous or embarrassed. So I just tell them straight away away – don’t worry, I came through Kaleidoscope. And If you’re worried about any of your questions, I’ve answered them before, nothing you say will shock me.

At the moment the key workers are really busy so I’m taking some of the less problematic clients. Hopefully I will go through the training and become a key worker myself.

Across the county, Kaleidoscope supports more than 450 people, and operates four projects.

What led you to this particular role?

I started boxing professionally at 18 after winning a British Championship fight in my teens. I was representing Wales, but my dream career developed into a means of funding my alcohol habit. I would take on difficult fights, knowing I’d get paid whether I won or lost, and then I’d spend the money on alcohol regardless of the outcome.

My addiction to alcohol started as seemingly harmless but it got to the stage where I was drinking too much and much faster than my mates. It was a slippery slope. Before I knew it I was relying on alcohol to feel I belonged – to be outgoing, funny, one of the lads – it just got worse from there.

Drink took over my life, leaving me alone and desperate to continue funding my habit. My desperation reached a peak when I could no longer afford to sustain my lifestyle. With my addiction still strong, stealing alcohol felt like my only option.

Then I came into contact with Kaleidoscope after being arrested for stealing alcohol. People are routinely referred after arrest, but then it’s up to them to follow up and probably 90% of referrals never engage with us, but I decided I’d had enough. Kaleidoscope got me into rehab and that was the start of my recovery.

Russell (in the pink tutu!) at his stag party

Why do you think it is important that people working at Kaleidoscope have lived experience of substance misuse? 

I think it puts people at ease. If they tell me something, it’s likely that I’ve had that same kind of feeling. You could have the same emotions about heroin, just because it’s a different substance it’s the same kind of thought process behind it really. It’s that common knowledge thing – you learn football better off people that play football basically.

Why do people start to become dependent on drugs and alcohol?

It can be anything. There are people who have been through trauma and manage not to go down that road and some people just do. When I was in rehab we used to have our group chats. There were lawyers there who had the occasional lunch-time drink that just got out of control and then there were the people who had experienced severe trauma in their lives.

A lot of the time it’s unseen circumstances. People only see the addiction, they don’t see the background of it, and it can be anything from family fall-outs to relationship failure. Maybe a couple broke up, they’ve only been together for a month, and one partner is really depressed about it and just chose to do the wrong thing. Alcohol, or substance misuse, is just a way of coping with things. So some people have the gym, others go for a run. Others just turn to alcohol and / or drugs.

How does drug and alcohol misuse impact on people’s mental health?

It’s really hard to deal with mental health when you’re drinking because if all you’re doing is to use drugs or alcohol to suppress the kind of emotions and feelings that you have then all that you’re doing is pushing that down. Things can get out of control really really quickly and that’s what people don’t understand. You can put things off, like bills and debts, and things snowball and before you know it you’ve got this weight on you plus the addiction. I used to deal with all my problems through alcohol. I’d end up stealing alcohol and then you have the stress of – have I been seen, or will I get caught?

It’s all of that and on top it’s people’s opinions of you as well. I know from experience that the people that come into Kaleidoscope, or any kind of drug and alcohol agency, aren’t bad people. Once you sit down with them you realise they’ve had a bit of bad luck in their lives. It’s hard to change people’s opinion on that. But they are actually good people.

On popular TV soaps, street drug people or alcoholics, they’re just portrayed as always doing bad things. Even celebrities are shown when they’re looking really haggard after a night out, you don’t see anyone after they’re recovered. And I think that’s why a lot of people don’t come into the service. It’s actually embarrassing to admit the problem and ask for help.

How might the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted on people’s unhealthy use of alcohol?

I think people are drinking more unknowingly. People have been furloughed and they can drink during the day and not really think anything of it. Then their intake slowly increases. It’s the same with the drug side of things. People might have used drugs at the weekend but now they can get away with doing it during the week too.

And I think Covid is a lot of stress for people too. I think that’s what it boils down to – just people’s stress and how they have dealt with it. I know some of my clients have really struggled through it. There are no barriers in place, people have time on their hands, and no one really knows when it’s going to end. You have all day to worry about your bills and some people have had bereavement to cope with too. Then a drink is going to seem very appealing.

Russell on his wedding day

What barriers might prevent people from seeking support and how do you work to overcome those?

Again, it’s stigma. People see it as embarrassing to admit to this kind of problem. And also not recognising it as a problem. If you ask ten people on the street – do you know what kind of daily alcohol limit you’re supposed to stick to in a healthy world, 8 out of 10 people wouldn’t know the answer.

We get people in to Kaleidoscope through just being friendly. Everyone loves coming into our office. We try to be as normal as we can because we know it’s daunting to come in and admit you have a problem.

Are there particular issues which arise in rural areas like Powys for people with drug and alcohol dependency?

I think a lot of people struggle with rural life. It makes sense – whether they’re cut off from family and friends in the middle of nowhere, so the loneliness, or just because of the way they live and problems with public transport, which means it is difficult for people to have regular access to our services. One good thing that has come out of the pandemic is that we now understand that sometimes phone contact can work.

And now people can drink at home, and when they go out shopping the first thing they see in the supermarket is a big pyramid of crates of beer on sale – which is pretty hard, especially for someone in the early stages of recovery.

Are you working differently, and if so how, to support people due to Covid-19?

So, we’ve been working from home since March now. We are providing phone support to clients. Some of the SMART meetings are taking place online in the evenings with one of my colleagues. A SMART meeting is from UK Smart Recovery, it’s like Alcoholics Anonymous but without the religious side. It’s been nice for some clients to join so they can see other people, especially as some live alone.

From 7 July we have partially opened our doors on a part-time basis in Newtown, Llandrindod Wells and Brecon.

Russell with his daughter

Do you provide support for the families of your clients and if so what?

We will speak to people if they’re worried about their son or daughter or partner – we can have a chat over the phone but obviously everything is confidential so we can’t tell them anything about the client. We normally point them in the direction of Al-Anon – an organisation set up to support the family and friends of alcoholics. 

Which other organisations do you work closely with to provide support to people? 

We do work closely with the Community Mental Health teams across Powys.

What is the most challenging aspect of the job?

Not being able to help everyone. I think you can’t come into this job with rose-tinted spectacles thinking you are going to change the world and everyone’s going to recover. I think everyone has their own journey – it’s just finding different ways of working with each individual.

One of the hardest things is when people are rude to people with addiction. If by telling my story, here, or on TV and in the paper, I can change a few people’s opinions on addiction, I’d really like that.

And the most rewarding?

Just people saying thank you really. They come into Kaleidoscope, like I did, pretty broken. And seeing them make a conscious effort to change their life – because I know how hard it is to get sober – and it’s really nice and rewarding to see. Next week I’ll be taking a client to the rehab I went to which will be nice – going back. I’ve been back a few times. My best man at my wedding and my ushers were all lads I met in rehab!

And also, on a personal level, being able to tell people what I do for a job after everyone knew me as a national champion boxer who threw his career away.

What is the most valuable thing you have learnt since starting your role?

Probably that everyone’s got a story. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

When you are not working for Kaleidoscope, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I still do a bit of boxing. We’re planning a Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for Kaleidoscope. We had to postpone it this year because of Covid. And I’m starting to learn to play the bass guitar. And spending time with my wife, and Facetiming my daughter who lives in Poland.

And finally

Now I’m a better father, husband, brother and son. I want people to know that addiction can grip anyone, from any background.

But, there is support out there, walk through our doors and you’ll be greeted with a warm smile and a cuppa. 

Many thanks to Russell for sharing his recovery journey. You can contact him by emailing: russell.pearce@kaleidoscopeproject.org.uk or phoning: 01938 554013.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Mental health charities in Powys - innovating for lockdown

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic I have been amazed by the speed and efficiency with which mental health charities across Powys have been able to adapt the delivery of their usual services to meet the demands of the “new normal”. Most have also developed new and innovative services. Like all of us the people running these charities have faced the sometimes conflicting challenges of trying to meet the needs of their members and clients whilst at the same time the requirement to safeguard their hard-working and committed staff and volunteers. 

The headline news is that - whether online, on the phone, or even - at a social distance - providing a face to face service, your mental health charities are still there for you.

Here are some of the changes they have made over the last four months. These changes are to help support people’s general wellbeing during this difficult time but also to continue addressing more serious underlying emotional distress whether related to Covid-19 or not.

Mid & North Powys Mind

MNP Mind staff pre-pandemic
Mid & North Powys Mind staff pre-pandemic

Due to the pandemic we had to close all of our in-person groups and our building to the public, but we have been supporting people on a one to one, remote basis instead (phone, WhatsApp video call, text, etc). We have also continued to support new people during this time. 

We moved our training courses online straight away and have been delivering these via Zoom video conferencing. Courses have included: Hypnotherapy for Relaxation, Recharging & Healing, Stress & Anxiety Management, Keeping Mentality Fit and we have Managing your Emotions running in July. The Mums Matter courses are delivered online now as well, along with a number of regular Mums Peer Support groups across mid & north Powys.

Mid & North Powys Mind continued doing in-person crisis work from the start of the pandemic, for the people that needed that additional support. And now we are moving to a more mixed approach of part in-person work, outside at a social distance, and part remote work, with people. This will much better enable us to support new people, as it is so much easier to build an open and trusting relationship in-person and keeping the part remote element will enable us to have a space to share very sensitive or confidential information, which is not always possible outside.

Our Blended Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy service, normally based at GP surgeries, has also moved remotely and is now open to referrals directly from the public, without the need to see your GP, which is a great step forward. We are also planning new Facebook Live broadcasts to showcase CBT and Silvercloud.

Facebook Live broadcasts have been incredibly popular. We've got three live shows running weekly at the moment: Tai Chi, Hypnotherapy for Relaxation, and Mindfulness. They have been getting over 1000 views per broadcast, 18,000 unique viewers this month alone and some really positive feedback. So we're expanding these broadcasts to include an introduction to CBT & Silvercloud, creative writing and general wellbeing tips from our THRIVE course. We have also started a Facebook chat & support group for our service users.

Our counselling service has moved to remote methods as well – mainly phone and WhatsApp video call. We have been lucky enough to secure a small amount of additional funding to expand this service.

We are working with Adrian Jones at Supporting People, who has a small pot of funding to enable Information Technology (IT) access for service users. That's been really good to help some of our service users get online, plus donated laptops from the Media Resource Centre, for our members.

Within our Outreach Groups, there are lots of people who are very vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19, and some people who are shielding. I think it's particularly hard on them because they're really missing the groups and social contact. We've been doing phone and virtual support, but many don't have internet access or have the tech skills to use online methods of communication. Recently, as lockdown restrictions have been eased, we have been supporting them to meet their peers in their gardens, to help them to feel more connected.

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, calling the main number: 01597 824411 or texting: 07539 870 010.

Ponthafren Association

Claire Cartwright, Ponthafren Association Director, makes a dragon mosaic

At Ponthafren we were able to adjust very quickly to a virtual way of working.

All of our core services have continued, albeit in different ways, as well as maintaining contacts with those who need our services.

Our counselling services are continuing and what's been interesting is that there is 97% attendance at the moment, which is remarkable. This is something we are monitoring as we consider how and when we re-open the Ponthafren sites. I’m sure that some services will continue to be virtual whilst having a coordinated approach. The feedback of the virtual services has been extremely positive.

We have upped our social media presence since we've been in lockdown. So for Mental Health Awareness Week we talked about the Five Ways to Wellbeing each day. We encouraged staff to share their experiences during lockdown whether it was learning new skills, keeping in contact with others, being kind and being active. James did a marvellous job in scheduling the posts on numerous social media platforms.

In partnership with Adult Learning Wales we are continuing our life skills courses. The courses cover topics such as Coping with Change, Stress & Anxiety and Resilience & Emotional Wellbeing training online via Zoom.

We are also facilitating volunteer training. So far, it’s working really well in small groups – it can be tiring for the tutor but we always have a staff member in the sessions to help in case anyone needs particular assistance.

A really positive outcome of the forced lockdown has been the informal partnership formed in a direct response to the Covid situation in Newtown. The team involves working with the PAVO Community Connectors, the Town Council, the Salvation Army and one of the local churches. We were meeting daily but now twice a week. We've got 17 Angels working under the network, and approximately 150 Cherubs, who have all responded to the call out for help to help others in the locality. Ponthafren looks after the telephone line and helps to coordinate any call for help. For example: shopping, advice, picking up prescriptions, access to FREE food and specific support. Newtown is providing over 5000 free meals per week via local businesses and community groups.

We're also working with businesses as well, finding out how they can support the community and how we can support them. It's just having a really good community feel which is going to be really beneficial going forward. We've never had this many volunteers come forward in recent times. We really want to capture that and move forward with it.

But now my attention is to how and when we can reopen the Ponthafren sites whilst providing a safe environment for all; it’s going to be a challenge but one that the Ponthafren trustees and staff are keen to do as quickly as we can. Services and the setting may look different but the object of Ponthafren is to provide a caring community offering support to those in need and to promote positive mental health and well-being for all.

Oh, and I nearly forgot we are in the process of purchasing the Armoury in Welshpool. This will enable us to provide an exciting schedule of activities and will provide us with the space to respond to need in the locality.

We’ve been busy!

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, calling the main number: 01686 621586 or emailing: admin@ponthafren.org.uk

Brecon & District Mind

Green Minds project, Brecon & District Mind

All our support is provided remotely by phone or online video call. We had some good news recently as the National Lottery is to fund our counselling service to expand it further for a year. The Green Minds project is very busy. They have set up their own website so that they can have interactive sessions on gardening and growing. They are going to be one of the first groups to do some 1:1 work outside using Brecon Cathedral’s walled garden. 

The Mums Matter Programme is now online. The mums’ support group is still happening on Zoom and that has been quite popular. There were some Mindfulness videos which went out in the beginning. Our Blended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and our Social Prescribing projects are continuing remotely. Referrals to Mums Matter can be emailed to: mumsmatter@breconmind.org.uk

Active Monitoring is returning as Mind Cymru were successful in sourcing funding from Wales Council for Voluntary Action. The model has been adapted so that it can be used by phone, Zoom and WhatsApp starting 15 June across Powys (including Mid & North Powys Mind and Ystradgynlais Mind). We have three practitioners in place in our area and we're taking referrals and they can come from anywhere including GPs and self-referrals. Please email referrals to: activemonitoring@breconmind.org.uk

We have a YouTube channel where we have Mindfulness videos. We have a Covid-19 closed group on Facebook where people can share their concerns. We are posting a regular photo challenge on our Facebook page as well as keeping Twitter and Instagram up to date.

Val Walker, CEO said “For the first 10 weeks it was worryingly quiet. I anticipated the quiet but not for that long. But now, all of a sudden, requests for support are coming in. A police officer requested that we actually go out and see one of our clients. We did a face-to-face session outside which made me think that it was absolutely necessary for us to start thinking about going back to this way of working because that one person was so different after that face-to-face meeting. As some people don't like talking on the phone, our 1:1s will start on a gradual basis outside.”

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, calling the main number: 01874 611529 or emailing: info@breconmind.org.uk

Ystradgynlais Mind receive a donation from Cwmtwrch Rugby Football Club

We're really pleased with how we managed to roll out our services to people during lockdown. Our biggest concern really is the people who are the most vulnerable in our community who would not normally attend our services. They tend to be older and don’t have access to IT. We managed to get some funding for some extra staff hours so that they can have more telephone support and we’re also trying to link them up so that people can stay connected.

At the beginning we worked really closely with the local Community Connector to do shopping and pick up prescriptions for people. We had an initial avalanche of referrals but that has slowed down. Our staff were all set up with laptops and filing cabinets to work from home.

We've been working quite closely with the local rugby clubs. And we had some extra funding for our Mums Matter course. This continues every Tuesday afternoon, and those in the peer group are still supporting each other. One of our members is writing a blog post every week.

We provided some Suicide Prevention training with the rugby clubs. Then they got together and did a 4,000 mile virtual journey from Cardiff to Scotland and they raised £2,000! So this brought in a lot of attention including from some celebrities in the rugby world. It’s raised our profile massively in the community.

Plus we had a grant from Mind Cymru for laptops for those without access to IT. One of our trustees was able to distribute those to try and reduce the impact of digital exclusion.

One of our Social Prescribing clients talking about the support we have given him during the coronavirus outbreak:

"I want to tell you how much you both have helped me over this difficult time. It would be so much harder to deal with all of this if I couldn’t speak to you both on your work phones. I can’t imagine how my emotions would have been without you both helping me.

I want to tell you both how helpful and understanding you have been to me, it’s hard for me to put into words how much you’ve helped me. Without the both of you my stress levels would have gone up and up. The support you have given me has been brilliant."

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, or using the contact methods on our Contact us page.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

PTSD in the Armed Forces: The Bomb Disposal Officer’s Tale

Chris Hunter Operating in Iraq in 2020
by guest author Major Chris Hunter QGM

Lord Moran, the much-celebrated physician of Winston Churchill’s, talked of soldiers having a stock of courage. Essentially, his theory was that people can be subjected to stress and trauma for a certain amount of time, but that each of us has a set ‘level’ of tolerance; and, crucially, once that level runs down to a dangerous level, if we are withdrawn from the stressful environment immediately we can replenish it, but if we fail to do so in time, it reaches a critical level after which permanent damage sets in.

Throughout my career I’ve witnessed countless traumatic incidents but, in 1995, as a young officer serving in Bosnia, I reached that critical level. Ten thousand Muslims were massacred during our tour and my troop and I experienced genocide at first hand.

Within months of returning home I found myself suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I’d begun to fall off the rails and was really starting to lose my way and question whether I was really making a difference and if I was worthy of leading soldiers at all.

Chris neutralising a mock-up of a Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device

Brummie, my Troop Sergeant, gave me some amazing advice; he was a tough man who was no stranger to hardship. He’d spent time in both a young offenders’ institute and the elite French Foreign Legion before joining the British Army’s Pioneers but, despite his tough exterior, I soon realised that he was an extremely sensitive man who showed compassion and humility in abundance.

He sat and calmly listened to me as I struggled to articulate my anxieties and then, having listened and taken in every word, he gave me some advice that has sustained me through every challenge I’ve ever faced since. He told me that I’d never be able to solve all the world’s problems in one go, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to solve them one at a time. ‘A lot of good men fail because they try too hard to be perfect,’ he said, ‘and you know what? It’s all right just to be good. You can be a good enough husband, father, soldier, and still be a success.’

I’ll never forget those inspirational moments with him as he tried to shape me into a leader. Moreover, he taught all of us that worked with him that even in the macho culture of the Army that it’s OK to be scared. Through him we learned the true meaning of courage; namely that courage isn’t about never being scared, it’s about having the ability to muster up the inner strength to overcome your fears when you are. He was a very wise man, and pretty soon I learned, amongst other things, to rationalise the traumatic experiences I’d witnessed and, in doing so, I learned to overcome fear and stress.

Chris is also a motivational speaker

Six months after my Bosnia tour ended, I was driving into the British Army’s headquarters in Northern Ireland and witnessed two deadly IRA car bombs explode in a packed car park inside the barracks. It was rush hour, so as you can imagine, the first bomb caused numerous injuries; the second exploded a few minutes later, this time outside the medical centre. It had been placed there deliberately to target the wounded. I was truly sickened by the callousness of the attacks, but hugely inspired by the bravery of the bomb disposal operators who searched the remaining hundreds of parked cars by hand while those at risk were busy being evacuated. That was the moment I decided I was going to be a bomb technician. That moment was my calling.

Walking up to a terrorist bomb and neutralising it is one of the most terrifying yet gratifying experiences imaginable. When you and your team witness the truly terrible effects of a terrorist bomb and the devastating effect it has on people’s lives it really is heart-breaking. But when one is found and you are able to make it safe, and prevent that scene of carnage from re-occurring, there’s no feeling like it. It’s also one of the most exciting and adrenalin fuelled ‘rushes’ I’ve ever experienced, and those two aspects combined make it a potent and very addictive vocation.

Chris operating as an Army Bomb Disposal Operator in Iraq in 2004

On May 8th, 2004 we’d neutralised three bombs in Southern Iraq over the course of the day and had been out on the ground for over 16 hours without a break. Just as we were entering the City, looking forward to climbing into our beds, my team and I were ambushed in one of the most terrifying incidents I’d ever experienced. But as the bullets and grenades exploded into life around us, and in spite of our natural instinct to want to curl up in the foot-wells of our vehicles, we realised that the only way we’d stand any chance of survival was to overcome the paralysing fear and take the fight back to the enemy. I was convinced that my team and I would probably all be killed, but when you’re staring death in the face, it’s amazing how natural the body’s desire to survive really is. We took a deep breath, summed up a deep dark fury from the pits of our stomachs and violently fought fire with fire. 

Miraculously, we all managed to come out of it alive. But the next morning we had to go straight back out to deal with more bombs - and had to drive through the ambush site again. There wasn’t time to get over the shock; it was truly unsettling. On reflection, not only did I realize that life is finite, I also realised the true importance of staying focused and keeping your sense of humour when things go pear-shaped.

Obviously, being ambushed and shot at was extremely traumatic but every bomb I walked up to was also highly stressful. As you take that long walk up to the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), often carrying in excess of 150 lbs of equipment, your pulse is racing and every sense is on full alert. You clear your mind of all the day to day nonsense like what you’re going to have for dinner that night; what bills have to be paid; and how your team is doing in the league, and instead you focus solely on the bomb. Where it is, how it might be constructed, and what the bomb-maker who designed that attack is trying to achieve. Is he trying to kill innocent civilians; is he trying to kill the police or members of the security forces; or is he trying to kill me?! The device might just be an obvious come-on that’s been placed to lure me into the area so that I can be killed by something more sinister. In essence, you’re playing a game of extreme chess with the bomber every time you take that long walk. But while you never fixate on death or failure – ever 
 in the back of your mind you have to maintain a healthy measure of paranoia... because at any moment you know that your time or luck could run out.

Total failure or complete success... 

Chris cuts the detonator out of an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq in February 2020

People often ask why we do it; I know some do it for the ­ adrenalin rush, others to seek atonement for darker episodes in their lives. But I think most do it out of a good old-fashioned sense of duty – just because they want to make a difference. For me, I guess it was a bit of all three.

I suppose the real question is what makes us stay? There’s something immensely gratifying about neutralising a weapon designed to kill and maim large numbers of people. Everybody I know who does it is absolutely hooked. It has to be one of the most interesting jobs on the planet. It didn’t just challenge and motivate me mentally; the fact that we got to save the lives of thousands of people we didn’t know and would more than likely never meet, was massively inspiring on a ­ spiritual level too. Not a single day goes by now when somebody isn’t killed by an IED. Every device I could neutralise took me one step closer to tracing and bringing down the groups responsible.

But I guess that, if I put my hand on my heart, the biggest, most powerful incentive is the buzz. Rendering safe a terrorist bomb is probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever done without getting arrested. The rush I get from dealing with a device is fearsome. Like all aspects of soldiering, it’s truly elemental; a world where everything is often black and white; a world of straightforward choices. Life and death... both yours and the people you’re trying to save.

It comes at a cost, of course. One minute you’re standing at the cliff’s edge, just you and the bomb, pushing it to the max; the next you’re at home with your wife and kids, trying to come down and be normal again. And if you’re living on the edge, eventually you’re going to go all the way over. If you’re lucky, you see the signs and decide it’s time to pull back and step away. But maybe by then it’s already too late.

Major Chris Hunter the author

It’s worth noting that the number of soldiers who died through suicide, or who received open verdicts after returning home from the Falklands, is more than a third of the 237 who were lost there in action. An investigation by the BBC's ‘Panorama’ also revealed that 21 serving soldiers and 29 veterans were thought to have committed suicide in 2012, a number that exceeds the 40 soldiers who died fighting over in Afghanistan during the same period. And in the final year of the Afghan conflict there were more ex-military in prison, on parole or serving community sentences than were deployed in the country. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real phenomenon.

But on the plus side our servicemen also become more resilient in time. The more we are exposed to stress and trauma, the more resilience we build up, and the higher our tolerance – or stock of courage – to it, becomes. That is what happened with me, I believe. I definitely witnessed far more traumatic experiences after Bosnia, in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and during the 7/7 bombings. But, by recognising my critical levels of tolerance to stress, and by learning to rationalise what I witnessed and experienced, I seem to have learned to cope with virtually any traumatic experience that has come my way so far.

When I watch the news, return from a war-zone or indeed speak with other friends who’ve recently returned from conflict, I realize that little changes. The world continues to be dangerous and un­predictable and, for the members of our armed forces still operating, the switch continues to flick rapidly and repeatedly from full-off to full-on. And yet despite the risks and the trauma, they love what they do. It’s a vocation, a way of life. And if you asked a veteran if he or she would do it all over again, you’d get the same answer every time:

“…in a heartbeat!”

Chris Hunter is a broadcaster, motivational speaker and former British Army bomb disposal operator. He is the best-selling author of the non-fiction titles: Eight Lives Down and Extreme Risk and is a regular contributor to television & radio news and current affairs programmes. For his actions during his Iraq tour Chris was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

This Saturday 27 June is Armed Forces Day, a chance to show support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community.

There are many organisations providing support to the Armed Forces community. 
The PAVO mental health team has pulled together a list:

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Impacts on the Covid Kids

by guest blogger Evan Griffiths

Evan Griffiths is a Powys based singer songwriter. He is 16, is afraid of crabs, and finds talking about himself in the third person very weird. The lovely folks at PAVO asked him to do a blog post on the impacts of COVID-19 on him and the people he knows.

So what have the kids of the Powys area been up to since lockdown?

Well, obviously I can't speak for everyone but from what I've seen, it's a lot of video games. I spoke to some of my mates and we all agreed that without online games you can play together with other humans we'd all have gone mad months back. Personally I also find that on top of this finding a solid creative outlet is also vital for the whole “not going bananas” thing.

As you might expect I’ve made a lot of music since the world went on standby and I must say I've not had the worst time doing it! Since day 1 I tried my best to encourage my friends and strangers on the internet to take up something creative now that none of us can go outside. I even did a short YouTube sketch reviewing people's projects. It wasn't very good.

Also (shameless plug) I’ve been working towards opening the Radnor Fringe Festival on Friday the 19th of June at 7pm GMT so like go watch that, I put a lot of work into it.

Other fun projects I’ve encountered where: learning a new language, making art from loads of old rubbish (this one wasn't from a teenager but is still very cool), learning bass guitar, making animations, it's been really cool to see what people can do now that they have virtually unlimited time to do it. If ever there was a time to finally learn that skill you've been putting off learning, it's now!

What effects have these activities had?

I have become dependent on coffee and have not left the house in three days.

And everyone else?

Oh right yeah, it's been really interesting to see at what rates people start to lose their marbles from social isolation but certainly those of us who are used to not talking to people for a while did a fair bit better in the short term. By this point everyone has more or less acclimatised to our new and weird reality and are back to feeling how we normally do.

Since this blog is about mental health I’d like to do a short piece on that. A lot of kids get bullied in school. Personally, I had a really terrible time of it towards the end of high school with gossiping teenagers and all that awful stuff and so for some of us the release from our nine to three coke light prison in favour of staying inside most of the time actually resulted in a marked improvement in our self worth and ability to cope with problems and situations. It’s almost as if it's easier to do your thing without people constantly telling you how awful you are.

However, this wasn't the case for everyone. For a lot of people the school environment provides a set structure and support group and to lose that means it becomes a lot harder for that person to cope with everything that goes on in their lives. And as a person who values structure myself I can seriously empathise with this. So the impacts of specifically the lockdown can change massively from person to person to person.

This got really heavy really fast.

It did, didn't it? Still I think it's important for people to talk openly about mental health, even now when it feels like the world's caving in. When did this become a lecture? 

Anyway to go back to a previous point I genuinely believe the escapism offered by video games has saved me and many others at least a portion of our sanity. For a long time when i couldn't go out and see my friends we'd boot up a Minecraft world and play virtual Lego for 5 straight hours and that all might seem silly or trivial to a lot of you reading this after the serious topics discussed and frankly I don't blame you but even from a mental health point of view spending time with your friends has always been shown to be good. Whether that be sharing a bag of crisps or blowing them up in Team Fortress 2. 

You talked before about the more creative activities you and your friends have been up to since lockdown, care to elaborate on how COVID affects the creative process?

The big C hasn't so much changed the creative process as it has simply forced it to adapt. For example I used to go and sit in my mate's house writing songs for hours on end, now I play a lot of Minecraft.

Please stop talking about Minecraft.

Okay fine, one of the few things I’ve found that's actually pretty cool about this whole lockdown thing is that it's given me loads of time to pour my everything into what I enjoy doing, making music. However, I am so criminally bored. I cannot articulate to you just how bored I am. 

Last week I cleaned my room, by choice, out of boredom. THAT’S HOW POWERFUL THIS ISOLATION IS! I’m up to date on school work for the first time in 5 years. So whilst me and many others have enjoyed the extra time to work on projects, if I go much longer I might make a TikTok and then it's really over. And if you don't know what TikTok is, thank your lucky stars and know that I envy you greatly.

Any closing thoughts about the impacts of COVID on the youth?

Firstly, I hate the term “the youth” makes me sound like an old man. Secondly, is it me or does February feel like it occurred sometime around 1996? And finally, I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I bid you all an at least interesting rest of your day.

>>> l i n k s <<<

Monday, 18 May 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – Kindness & Celf-Able

by Julia Wilson, Celf-Able art group

When my colleague Jen Hawkins (PAVO Health & Care Information Officer) and I started planning how we would commemorate this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week - 18 – 24 May - a few months ago, the theme was Sleep.

Never in our worst nightmares 
did we imagine the unfolding scenario which is the Covid-19 pandemic.

So much has changed in such a short time over the past few weeks. One of the most inspiring outcomes, however, is the willingness people across Powys have shown to help others, to show love and compassion through the smallest acts of kindness in their local communities. This has shone through particularly through the work of the local Covid-19 support groups which have sprung up across Powys.

Fittingly, the charity which has hosted the annual Mental Health Awareness Week since 2000, the Mental Health Foundation, decided to change its theme this year to Kindness. The reason for the change is explained in more detail:

“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.

We also want to shine a light on the ways that kindness is already flowering at this time. We have seen it in the dancing eyes of 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore as he walked his garden to raise money for the NHS and in the mutual aid groups responding to local needs. We want that kindness to spread further in every community in the UK.

Finally, we want to use the week to explore the sort of society we would like to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.” 

by Ann Jeeves, Celf-Able art group
Ann: "For family, friends and neighbours - asking if anything is needed, 
doing shopping, and giving CAKES. I am grateful."

We asked the North Powys arts and disability charity Celf-Able if its members, who are meeting through Zoom video conferences to continue activities, would like to celebrate the Kindness theme by creating artwork for the blog based on their own recent experiences of kindness.

Amanda Wells, one of the group’s volunteer co-ordinators, told us more about Celf-Able’s work and recent activity:

“Celf-Able is an art group in Montgomeryshire. We are run by disabled volunteers but the group is open to all ages and abilities. We normally hold meetings in Newtown, Welshpool, Machynlleth, Llanfair Caereinion and Caersws, one meeting per month in each. We hire meeting rooms and turn up with a car full of art materials and people can create whatever they like! We are not an art class, but we share skills with each other and learn and have fun creating together.

During lockdown we have been having weekly meetings on Zoom. Going online has been a steep learning curve but we are starting to get used to it now. One member volunteers to run an activity, based on things that people might have at home. 

by Amanda Wells, Celf-Able art group

Amanda: "My dog Alfie is very kind and affectionate and has always been there with a doggy cuddle when he has sensed that I'm distressed. I wouldn't be coping with lockdown without him." 

So far we have done zentangles, drawing faces, pencil drawing and creative writing, amongst others. It’s a chance to see other people while chatting and being creative. The Zoom meetings are open to anyone, just email us first at admin@celf-able.org to introduce yourself and get the joining instructions. Not all our members can attend on Zoom, so we are looking forward to life out of lockdown when we can get together and meet face-to-face again.” 

Celf-Able’s members are also considering a new initiative called Ffrindiau Celf / Art Friends – which by its very nature is intrinsically kind! They are currently circulating a survey to find out if people would be interested in having a befriender through art. The survey considers some of the benefits such as reducing isolation and loneliness, increasing confidence and improving mental and physical wellbeing, as well as learning new art skills.

You can read more about what members of Celf-Able have been doing in lockdown on the group’s own blog

Ann Conway, Celf-Able art group
Ann: "A phone call: 'Come to the door.' 
My god-daughter, with beautiful tulips for me. Such an act of kindness."

The Mental Health Foundation again 

“We think it could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic - with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus.

We know that one act of kindness can lead to many more. This is the type of community action that we need to inspire others as we discover our connection to each other and extend kindness to ourselves”. 

Sue Patch, Celf-Able art group

Sue: "During this lockdown I have been astounded at the kindness of people.
My lovely Mum died on 29 April and I have been overwhelmed by the messages
 I have received from people offering me support in words and virtual hugs.
People are kind all over the world."

We would love to hear about your own experiences of kindness, and how being the recipient of kindness has helped improved your mental wellbeing during Covid-19. Let us know in the comments box below, or on our Facebook or Twitter pages. Or you can email us at mentalhealth@pavo.org.uk