Mental Health Matters – Lochaber Hope

Lochaber Hope logo
Lochaber Hope logo

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As lockdown continues to ease and we find ourselves adjusting to new changes in our day-to-day lives it is clear that the coronavirus pandemic has had an effect on the mental wellbeing of people as well as risks to physical health.

But we are not alone.

There are many organisations and services in the Lochaber area offering help and
support, and our new Mental Health Matters column will be focusing the spotlight on the people and places involved in promoting mental wellbeing.

Lochaber Hope is a Fort William-based charity that have been offering services in
counselling, mentoring and training for some 15 years. I talked to Alyson Smith founder
and manager about how Lochaber Hope has operated through the last few months of
lockdown and will continue going forward.

Alyson told me: ‘As soon as the pandemic hit we moved all of our services online. That
meant our peer support groups, counselling and mentoring all moved to Zoom or phone.

‘It was almost like starting all over again as we adapted to the different way of working.
We also very quickly created a whole programme of additional Zoom meetings – there is
something happening every single day and many that operate on a weekly or fortnightly
basis.

‘We have Zoom meetings for general chatting or led sessions in subjects such as
yoga, mindfulness, crafts along with specific sessions for dealing with anxiety.’

However while many people have acquired all sorts of new IT skills and are now
proficient at Zoom and video calls, for some people a group chat just isn’t the best way to access help and support, so there are still one-to-one phone calls offered.

‘Alyson explained: ‘We started with more than 50 Zoom sessions a week being offered and really got the message out there about them with leaflets and social media, but the uptake while good, was not as much as I had expected, so we knew we had to find other ways to reach people who may need support.’

Realising that accessing the online services at all may be a barrier, Lochaber Hope has
been providing free laptops and broadband access to people to enable them to get online in their own home. Along with this a new chat feature has been added to the website (www.lochaberhope.org.uk), which has someone available on weekday evenings to chat, listen and offer support, or signpost to further help as an anonymous service.

Alyson added: ‘This has been really well used and we will carry on offering this
alongside our other services even once lockdown ends.’

In these unprecedented times even the most resilient of us have faced challenges we
could have never imagined before. From uncertainty over financial, employment or
educational security, to being cast in roles we have previously never experienced as
home schoolers, gardeners, bakers or carers, we have all had cause to reflect on our lives and our place in the world.

The final word goes to Alyson.

‘Everything we all facing just now is new and keeps changing. Don’t disregard your emotions as we try to deal normally with abnormal circumstances. Allow yourself to have those feelings and keep reaching out and talking about them.’

Lochaber Hope offers help and support if you need it, along with volunteering
opportunities if you are able to offer help to others. Find them via their website, on
Facebook or telephone 01397 704836.