Protecting Life in the Pandemic

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A blog from Catherine Smith who is a Key Worker on our Protect Life service, which prides itself on being a 1-1 support service, helping clients aged 8-21 with the many aspects and challenges of mental health.

I remember back in March 2020 when restrictions started to come into place due to Covid-19, thinking, ‘What’s going to happen to Start360 services?’, in particular the Protect Life service on which I work. However 23rd March came, full lock-down happened and we had no choice but to adapt to working remotely.

Some experts agree that communication is 7% verbal, 38% tone of voice and 55% body language. So you can see how difficult it can be for some people when 1-1 mentoring support is delivered remotely. Often people can dread the thought of talking to someone on the phone or on a zoom call, because we can’t truly see how someone is reacting or responding to what we are saying. We knew that having to adapt would be a massive challenge, not only for us as Key Workers, but also for our clients.

Clients of school age were no longer in school, unable to see their friends. Other clients weren’t able to see family or friends and many of them lived alone. To add to these changes, clients no longer had the face to face support of their Protect Life Key Worker.

Thankfully, the move to mentoring remotely was met with much support from clients and referral agents, in a bid to reduce the spread of Covid-19. We were still able to fulfill our roles by continuing to support some of the most vulnerable people in N. Ireland, whether it be through face time or telephone support. We continued to offer mentoring support through:

  • Weekly check-ins.
  • Sessions on improving and looking after mental health.
  • Resilience building.
  • Focusing on the importance of self care.
  • looking at ways to help reduce self harm.

As restrictions began to ease we started to once again return to some face to face meetings with clients who were comfortable enough to do so and I started to mentor again in schools. This was short lived however due to a second wave of Covid 19 meaning further restrictions had to be brought back in.

We are now into the New Year and restrictions have been eased and tightened again over the last few months. I think everyone understands that until we have access to the new vaccine for the majority of our population, this will have to be our new way of working for quite a while. Being part of the Protect Life team, I and my colleagues know firsthand that poor mental health is at an all time high. This makes our resolve even stronger to help and support as many of our clients as best we can throughout the ongoing pandemic.

"We reiterate to all our clients the importance of talking and connection whether it be to a loved one or a stranger on a telephone helpline, there is always someone willing to listen."

The past 10 months have been difficult for me, both personally and professionally. I’ve had to adapt to working from home with 3 children, my husband and our new dog (who has been a godsend and a wee torture - I mean the dog). I still feel very lucky to be able to do my job to a high standard, and to also have the support of my loving family. A lot of our clients may not have these privileges and the past 10 months has made me realize more than ever how important that support can be.

Protect Life strive to meet the needs of all our clients knowing full well that this pandemic has been a very lonely and challenging time for some. We’re still here.

‘We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm, Support each other’


For more information on Protect Life please click here

Catherine Smith, Protect Life Key Worker.

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