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Mental HealthNewsTebay Services

Growing Well and the North Cumbria Migrant Mental Health Project

According to UNHCR statistics, asylum seekers and refugees face unique and complex challenges related to their mental health and are often at greater risk of developing mental health problems.

This is partly due to their pre-migration experiences but can often be caused or exacerbated by the process of applying for asylum in the UK and by post-migration challenges.

Asylum seekers and refugees are more likely to experience poor mental health than the local population, including higher rates of depression, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders.

Research suggests that asylum seekers are also five times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population, and more than 61% will experience severe mental distress.

There is the likelihood that individuals who are less likely to engage with clinical mental health treatment may find it easier to receive support following a model such as Growing Well’s recovery through activity.

Working with other brilliant local support groups and coordinated by our local CVS, Growing Well has been supporting cohorts of people seeking asylum since we opened our site at Tebay Services in January. In this time, we’ve now helped over 100 individuals in need of our support.

As with our other Growing Well beneficiaries, a diagnostic label is less relevant than an individual’s experience and need. The therapeutic process starts with the ethos of respecting and valuing what each individual brings – starting at the point the volunteer is at that time.

We focus on abilities rather than disabilities, strengths rather than challenges and gradually encourage progress to greater engagement in activity – sometimes alone, then alongside and ultimately collaboratively with others as a team. Thus, beneficiaries gain, or re-gain, the satisfaction of real productive work and working relationships.

They gradually begin supporting each other; doing tasks together leads to sharing skills, how to tackle tasks “on the field” at Growing Well leads into how to tackle life’s problems outside of Growing Well and being a helper rather than a recipient of help leads to a gain in confidence and self-esteem.

The feeling of being recognised or ‘seen’ as a valued individual is powerfully therapeutic.

So, how does our day run?

We collect the group in our minibus at 9am and bring to them to site. We provide protective clothing; work boots, waterproofs, and gloves, as well as warm clothes. We have set aside our volunteer support room for use as a prayer room on these days.

The day starts with coffee, snacks and a briefing outlining the activities for the day which have included everything from seed sowing and planting to polytunnel construction.

There are four activity sessions each day punctuated by breaks. A hot healthy lunch is provided, and on occasion both the men and women have cooked for the rest of the group. The minibus returns the group to the hotel at the end of the day.

Unlike our core service, we cannot use our Goals Based Outcomes framework to guide longer term mental health goals. Our delivery model to these groups has differed from our standard model for several reasons.

  • Language barriers making it difficult to articulate a recovery goal or engage fully in the review process as well as understand and participate in completing Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales.
  • Potential individual reluctance to understand, acknowledge, or communicate mental ill health.
  • The possibility that certain questions could be triggering for some individuals.
  • Not knowing how long an individual will engage for, either due to their own preference or due to being moved on from the hotel and to a different area.

We decided instead to set short term, tangible goals that bring short term satisfaction and sense of purpose, and help people on that day, in the moment.

We offer a simple evaluation sheet with the question “How was your day?” translated into the languages spoken by our attendees. There is also the option to write a free text comment. Here are some of the reactions from our beneficiaries:

“Thank you very much for respecting us.” 

“It was a lot of fun. And I felt I have done something today. Very fun and great. I felt like I have done something positive.”

“It was a very beautiful day. A beautiful day with a variety of activities. It’s also nice to see the people around you working hard. Very respectful and kind treatment that makes you feel happy.”

Thank you for making us feel included. I eagerly wait for Wednesday every week.”

Being part of this project has been an absolute privilege for Growing Well. Our organisation has been touched by the enthusiasm, resilience and sheer grit of the people who come to our site each week.

We are proud to facilitate a psychologically safe space so that people feel OK to share their world with us and each other.