The CAR workstream considers the ways in which psychology can inform, support and amplify community level responses to Covid-19 and our recovery from the pandemic.
Specific work and actions by psychologists
Psychologists for social changeShow content
A Neighbourhood Community Psychologist: potential and possibilitiesShow content
We recognise that some psychologists, working in services or with civil society organisations, already combine various elements of neighbourhood or community working. These ideas are for those who do not, but would like to, or those who would like to develop this work.
We have presented ideas in the form of a job description for a Neighbourhood Community Psychologist. Individual ‘job requirements’ can be lifted and put beside other work, or the whole set could be used to create a new kind of post.
We have also offered items that could form all or part of a person specification.
Some case studies of psychological neighbourhood work are presented.
We hope this will be useful to commissioners, local authority teams, applied psychologists and other community workers who want to know what kind of knowledge, skills and resources such a role could bring to their organisations and/or services.
Dialogue with Participation and Practice of Human Rights (PPR)
About Participation and the Practice of Human Rights (PPR)Show content
Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) is a small human rights NGO with a big vision: to turn international human rights standards into grassroots tools for economic, social and environmental change.
From a small pilot project founded by Inez McCormack in Belfast and Dublin in 2006, PPR now works with a growing network of communities across Ireland using human rights as tools for change.
PPR promotes human rights by building power and by harnessing their organising, policy and communications expertise - along with their growing activist network - to support communities who have been marginalised by laws, policies, public authorities or private interests.
An interview with Dessie Donnelly, Director of Participation and the Practice of RightsShow content
Dessie Donnelly is Director and a founding member of the Belfast-based Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) organisation.
Prior to working with PPR, Dessie was an organiser in the USA and Irish labour movements.
Dessie is also a qualified software developer with an interest in leveraging the power of free and open source software in support of social movements and mutual aid networks.
Dialogue with Mothers Uncovered
About Mothers UncoveredShow content
Mothers Uncovered exists to support women during matrescence - a term meaning the transition of a woman into motherhood - by organising a variety of creative support groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby.
These groups are all facilitated by past participants and are designed to give women the chance to talk openly and honestly, without fear of judgement, and to celebrate and mark this point in their lives.
The organisation's founder, Maggie Gordon-Walker, has written extensively on many issues, including the ways in which universal basic income would revolutionise mothers' lives, and the organisation has also given its backing to a change.org petition to recognise the term 'matrescence' and increase support for post-natal mothers.
Interview with Maggie Gordon-Walker, founder of Mothers UncoveredShow content
The Brighton-based organisation celebrates the woman behind the mother, while allowing feelings to be explored honestly, without judgement, and is open to all who identify themselves as mothers.
Maggie is an advocate for mothers’ rights, believing their wishes around pregnancy, birth and postpartum are often ignored or marginalised, and a leading campaigner for greater usage of the word ‘matrescence’ to describe the transition to motherhood.
She is also working to create a cross party group of MPs to push for the creation of a national database of maternal peer support services, and served as editor for The Secret Life of Mothers, a compilation of over 50 women’s stories, which has a foreword by Caroline Lucas, MP, a long-term supporter of the project.
Dialogue with VOICES Network
The Impact of Covid-19 on Asylum Seeking People and Refugees in the UKShow content
VOICES is a network of refugees and people seeking asylum who want to use their lived experiences to help change minds, change policy and change practice.
The British Red Cross facilitates, empowers and supports VOICES Ambassadors to speak from their personal lived experience. They speak independently and do not represent the view of the British Red Cross or any other organization.
We would like to thank the VOICES Network for permission to link to their powerful video which describes their experiences of the Covid crisis.
Discussion With VOICES AmbassadorsShow content
The following text is drawn from a 90 minute Zoom discussion on 27.8.20 with 10 VOICES Ambassadors (drawn from across the UK), Jessica Moser (British Red Cross) and Dr Anne Douglas (BPS Community Action and Resilience working group).
Covid-19: Another Major Challenge for this Group
The overall sense I got from the discussion was that the impact of Covid 19 was yet another major challenge for this group on top of all the other challenges they were facing. The group also wanted to talk about the cultural stigma, which made it difficult to initially seek help for mental health problems, and the need for accessible, culturally relevant mental health services for asylum seekers and refugees. They felt that mental health screening should occur when they arrive in the UK. These issues may have also come to the fore due to the recent, highly publicized deaths, of three asylum seekers in Glasgow.
“So, I think for me my mental health is just as important as me being physically checked out or if I’m up to date on my vaccines. My mental health should be up there even before they think about vaccines”
- Female refugee
“The main things for the mental health of the asylum seeker and refugee are; good housing, good house give good life, education and work. We came here and we asked for sanctuary and to be safe but if any one of these we don’t have we will have lots of mental health problems”
- Male refugee
“A few months ago we went to the Parliament in London fighting for the right of the asylum seeker to get the right to work and access higher education.
As asylum seekers we have a very limited voice in the hegemonic discourse so VOICES gives a voice to the voiceless asylum seekers and refugees”
- Male asylum seeker
Cultural Stigma in Opening Up About Mental Health Problems
“In Pakistan there was no recognition or awareness of mental health issues. If I said to someone in Pakistan ‘I’m depressed’ they would just tell me to basically “man up”. So when I moved to the UK my default stance was that Psychology, Psychotherapy doesn’t work”
- Pakistani male asylum seeker
Stigmas for African people telling someone you have mental health issues
“For the African race there is this notion that there is a stigma telling someone that you have mental health issues because they just assume you’ve gone mad and lost your mind. The way an African person handles trauma you know and their mental health is different from a British person, and narrowing it down, not just an African person but also an African woman. It’s like a slap on your face if you tell anyone you have mental health problems. Take for instance the case of Mercy. It’s not that I know what she’s been going through it’s because of the lies we’re brought up with that as a woman you just have to be strong. You can’t tell your husband or your partner what you’re going through. As a black woman there may be a lot of things you are going through but you’re not going to say these things to anyone. You know it takes a long time for us to trust, to really open up to someone…. As an African mental health is one of the many things I am battling with. A lot of African women have mental health issues but they can’t really say because they just have to be strong as a woman. Even when we come to a country like this we still find it difficult to open up”
- Female asylum seeker/refugee
“So to expand on what the last speaker said it affects men and women, it cuts across. It’s hugely stigmatizing for a male coming from Africa, ’what are you a woman or a man? They don’t speak about these things, you’re mentally ill, you’re an asylum seeker or refugee, you don’t speak about it, it’s only discovered you know when someone is at the end that ‘oh it’s a mental health issue’. So it’s something I want to highlight here, mental health is a big, big issue you know and I think we have to look at it and seriously understand the way it is acting on the daily lives of the individuals”
- Male Refugee
The Need for Mental Health Screening When People Arrive in the UK
“We feel strongly that it would be beneficial to people if this was part of the process whereby at the outset there was an option that people were given to be able to talk, to deal with their traumas because a lot of people are here by virtue of the traumas they have experienced, are experiencing, because it doesn’t stop when you leave our country it stays with you because you have fears, you have uncertainties. So it’s at that point where you’re going to the doctor to be checked up they (should) ask are you ok or who you can talk to.
We have a lot of services geared on you can get coats here, you can get food here but the core person in a way they neglect, the mental health of these people”
- Female refugee
The Need to Understand How NHS Mental Health Services are Organised
“There is ample opportunity (at the point of initial health screening) to put people on these waiting lists, because as you go out and you try to figure out the maze of the health industry in this country, it’s kind of difficult, it’s not straightforward”
- Female refugee
The Need to Know About the Different Types of Psychological Therapy Available
“Another thing I would like to raise when I was getting psychological help in my university and in the NHS before it seemed like they were only tackling the symptoms not like getting to the root cause of the problem, what trauma is it arising from? Instead of basically just giving me sleeping pills and antidepressants….I feel not all asylum seekers are as empowered as me because I’ve been here since I was a kid so I know where to look, what to read up but not all of them would. When they are told ‘oh you need to take antidepressants etc’ and they’re not basically aware of the schema therapy they can get, the cognitive therapy then they wouldn't even know and they would just take the anti-depressant”
- Male asylum seeker
Having Decided to Open Up the Waiting Lists
“So when I would take the initiative and find out that the wait is 6 months and I already had this default stance that it doesn’t work this reinforces to me that I’m all alone, it’s not going to work, anyway they don’t care”
- Male asylum seeker
Problems with the Family Reunion Policy
"I am one of the VOICES ambassadors from Leeds who was at the Parliament sometime last year and among the topics we discussed was this issue of Family Reunion which we’re trying to campaign on. I’m a refugee I have the opportunity to bring a member of a family or a minor who has the opportunity to bring in a parent. You find this is a huge, huge area where if you’re an asylum seeker or refugee is powerless. She or he hasn’t the opportunity to bring a sister or a daughter or a son or a family member. It is hugely traumatic and it plays on the mental health of that individual”.
- Male refugee
Traumas After Arriving in the UK
"One of my friends was doing a dissertation on asylum seekers and refugees and the traumas related to them and what she found out was a lot of the traumas they had prior to coming to the UK but the majority of the traumas they suffer is post coming to the UK. So to give an example from family reunion. Basically I came to the UK as a 12 year old now I’ve been in the UK for 12 years in a row. My views on religion, on life, everything have been completely reconceptualised and now I can’t relate to my parents. They ask me to behave like a Pakistani kid in Pakistan, whereas now I’m behaving like a Pakistani British kid and we have so many conflicts. And our communication, like my parents can’t emotionally validate me and I can’t emotionally validate them and that basically results in a lot of repression and suppression of our emotions and it leads to anxiety, PTSD etc”
- Male asylum seeker
The Impact of Covid-19 on Asylum Seekers and Refugees
“ Before Covid I think those of us who had mental health problems were struggling or had low mood…. already we had those this before and now it’s double for us. When Covid came and we are suddenly alone, at home, especially people who are struggling with the language it is double for them.
People need double support, double help in this time”
- Male Refugee
“Also asylum seekers get around £35 a week so we have less money in the first place and because of the lockdown we struggle with the places, like if you’re coming from an Asian household you would probably want to get stuff like Asian spices, stuff like that, you want to go to specific shops to get the spices cheaper, but because of lockdown we were forced to go to the closer shops and they can and they were charging you extra costs, that meant we had even lower funding to spend. And recently I heard that the Home Office increased the amount of money we get by £1, which was a joke to be honest, so money was one of the big issues”.
- Male asylum seeker
“I think in another Covid wave it would be nice to maybe give refugees and asylum seekers data bundles for keeping in touch. The vast reason we have these (Zoom) meetings and people don’t come on is that they don’t have the capacity to be able to buy bundles for themselves. You’re asked to come on line and to show you our challenges but this comes from our £35 to buy my units and to use them on this call.
The reason I brought this up was we need information, we need information because one of the challenges was in this particular time we just went into people being closed in and we did not have the resources. When you went to the supermarket on the Monday you’d find queues and you didn’t know the reason why. People were queuing to buy extra food but you don’t have the capacity, anyway it’s so painful you don’t have the capacity to go to the supermarket every week to buy food.
Anyway that information what we should do how we should keep safe, how we should be able to interact, the dissemination of that information I think if all of us had the capacity to have that information in a timely manner it would be helpful for a lot of people.
Also a lot of people who were supposed to go to hospital got their appointment cancelled but it was not explained to them why it got cancelled, already there is a waiting list and now you’ve got these issues. And then there are people saying “go on line and set up an appointment”, it’s just as difficult to do that.
So I think for me if a second wave was to come I think for me personally just to have more information. Again talking about Newport we’re not supposed to have television, we’re not supposed to have internet Wi-Fi in your house, you know this is the media of communication from the government to the people, whether it is a radio or a TV there is a media of communication. It may be better in other cities of the UK that they may be able to facilitate the houses with internet so that people can be able to get information instead of waiting till someone tells you or just finding out ad hoc.
The dispersal houses where we live are not allowed to have TV or Internet so you don’t have first hand information; it’s always second hand information that has a time lag by the time it gets to you. You feel very alienated.
- Female asylum seeker
“Sometimes I think people making the decisions are bureaucrats and they don’t really have lived experience and that is why I absolutely love VOICES because they are able to bring some of these issues to the forefront and maybe lobby on them. Because they are real life situations not someone in a back office thinking they shouldn’t be having this, they shouldn’t be having that, it’s not a luxury. It also comes back to mental health remember prior to Covid we were already living in isolation”
- Female refugee
If (psychologists) learn about our situation, let them imagine themselves without family, without a good house, without Internet, without TV. They wouldn’t have a smart phone to listen to the first minister every day what she’s saying. If you put this to these people when they study our situation don’t let them do like, sorry to give this example like Marie Antionette from France when the people doesn’t find bread to eat, she says ‘let them eat cake’
- Male refugee
With thanks to Zain, Annie, Funmi, Almas, Ahmad and Walter from the VOICES Network.
NHS Mental Health Services:
It is important to ensure that mental health screening is part of the initial general health screening when people arrive in the UK to ensure appropriate and timely referral to services.
It would be helpful if psychologists could understand the significant cultural stigma involved for clients opening up about mental health problems and ensure therapists are culturally competent
It is crucial to provide accessible information on how mental health services are organized and the types of therapy people might expect.
The additional stresses of COVID19 and living through lockdown/restrictions:
It is vital for psychologists to understand the significant added stresses for asylum seeking people in particular during this period including social isolation and financial hardship.
Every effort must be made to ensure that people have access to ready sources of health information eg personal access to a TV, WI-FI connectivity and data bundles.
Psychologists need to be aware that remote psychology appointments may not be an option due to digital exclusion.
If clients are able to conduct remote appointments psychologists need to be aware of the particular challenges of working with clients and interpreters this way (2)
Psychologists and our professional bodies should be using our power and networks to actively campaign for digital inclusion for all.
Many of the Covid-19 related issues raised by the VOICES Ambassadors have also been noted in recent studies: in Scotland by the Scottish Refugee Council (3) and in England by Doctors of the World (4).
In addition, the Home Office Select Committee Preparedness for Covid-19 (5) recommended a raft of changes in line with those advocated by the VOICES Ambassadors. The BPS Community Action and Resilience Working groupparty endorses these changes and will endeavor to follow up any outcomes from the Select Committee meeting. It seems that the Government has not yet responded to the Select Committee recommendations however, Stuart McDonald MP, a Select Committee member has tabled a question regarding this delay on 28th October 2020 so we await the response.
With thanks to Jessica Moser Voices Participation Officer Wales, British Red Cross for facilitating this work with the VOICES ambassadors.
- Dr Anne R Douglas
BPS Guidelines for psychologists working with asylum seekers and refugees (2018)
BPS Working with interpreters online or via the telephone (2020)
Christie, G & Balliot H The impact of Covid-19 on refugees and refugee-assisting organisations in Scotland (2020)
Doctors of the World (2020) An unsafe distance – the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on excluded people in England.
Home Affairs Select Committee (23.7.2020) Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 .
Community responses to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees during Covid-19Show content
Safety, calming, connectedness, agency and hope are described as five essential principles for those confronting disaster, tragedy and loss (see Five essential elements of Immediate and Mid-Term Mass Trauma intervention: Empirical Evidence. Hobsfall et al Psychiatry 70 (4) Winter 2007).
What is important to communities in different situations will differ and how these principles are best realised will vary according to the community’s own priorities and contexts. However they can be helpful guiding principles.
Here are some of the issues affecting asylum seekers and refugees during the Covid-19 pandemic that were highlighted through the committees work and some of the examples of these principles in action.
Asylum seekers and refugees are likely to be experiencing the pandemic on top of other crises they have endured through forced migration and navigating a harsh asylum system.
As Covid has necessitated physical distancing, social media has become the essential way to receive lifesaving health information and accessing help when required has been dependant on phone/computer access. It is very important that there is a comprehensive digital inclusion strategy across the UK to make sure that asylum seekers and refugees and all those living in poverty have the physical means and money to access the health messages in a language they can comprehend so that they can be safe, follow health advice and access health input as needed.
The pandemic has exacerbated barriers to accessing health care. During Covid there has been wide coverage of crisis situations where asylum seekers may not have accessed the crisis physical and mental health care they needed. Many asylum seekers and refugees have pre existing health difficulties linked to histories of multiple traumas and experiences of harsh asylum procedures. Systems for accessing healthcare need to be as simple as possible for the whole population and all health and social care service staff need access to and ease of working with interpreters
Asylum seekers and refugees who are isolated and marginalised, and who may not have any access to family or friends may benefit from relationships with support workers and community projects who can help with practical social/ financial problems and also with psychosocial and emotional support.
Helplines that have operated with interpreters have been very important in signposting people to sources of food, money, health support etc.( e.g. the Scottish refugee council has had a freephone helpline during Covid)
For some asylum seekers and refugees the pandemic has sharpened their sense of being isolated and excluded and some have found lockdown very frightening and triggering of trauma memories.
Support workers may need to be able to access psychosocial support themselves to enable then not to get burnt out or vicariously traumatised by the work they are doing, but to help them sustain a calming and supportive presence. See the British Red Cross recruiting psychologists as psychosocial reserve volunteers.
Sense of self and community effectiveness
It helps in a crisis and recovery situation if people are enabled to have agency and make decisions about their lives and needs. Crisis policies such as removing asylum seekers during Covid-19 from their homes into hotels is likely to have contributed to deteriorating physical and mental health for some asylum seekers and made it harder for them to follow health advice.
Ongoing persistent and focussed advocacy and campaigning work is needed to improve UK asylum policies and procedures so that they can become humane, compliant with human rights principles and genuinely supportive of people who are seeking sanctuary, who have often experienced multiple traumas and adversities. See the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.
Opportunities to Help others can also help individuals; many asylum seekers and refugees have used their talents and skills volunteering and working to support the UK Covid recovery effort. See the work of the Re-Act New Scots tailors making masks in Scotland.
It is important that ongoing campaigns support asylum seekers in being allowed to contribute their skills and experience to the recovery effort by being allowed to work. See #LIFTTHEBAN coalition.
Everything that promotes social support and connectedness supports psychological recovery
In a pandemic that demands physical distancing, priority needs to be given to ways that increase social connectedness. See the work of refuweegee for creative ways to connect host communities with new asylum seekers.
New online initiatives may need to be developed providing opportunities for asylum seekers to meet and gain mutual support
It is Important during crises and afterwards to keep listening to and learning from communities of those seeking asylum and from refugees to understand where social support is needed and to build connections within and between communities
Hope is really important to help communities recover from a crisis
Hope that your pain and distress is heard and acknowledged
Hope that a societies members and leaders care about what you have been through and want to repair the damage.
Hope that you will get the help you need and that a realistic future can be thought about and planned for.
Hope that the injustices and structural inequalities that a crisis situation amplifies and exposes; the differential impact of illness, the effects of poverty and inequality, racism and a hostile and demeaning asylum process, can be responded to and rectified and that it is possible in practical ways to genuinely and demonstrably “build back better”.
Hope that there can be communal and social meaning making/ helpful rituals around what has happened to make sense of it
The Voices ambassadors (thevoicesnetwork.home.blog); and all those asylum seekers and refugees who are working as advocates and campaigners have essential insights into how to build back better.
Gregor Henderson, Wellbeing and Mental Health Lead, Public Health EnglandShow content
1. Clarity, purpose and approach
- Be clear about the issue to present. What narrative is there and what would ‘good’ look like.
- Are you asking for new policy/revision/legislation/authorisation?
- Are you advocating on behalf of a profession/the public/a community…?
- NB it is not always legislative change that is needed. It could be that Govt. authorises how people should operate on the ground.
- Is the issue fundamental to human endeavour? If not know this, must be clear about purpose – why, who for, meaning of the goal (connect internal worlds with external worlds).
- Fit narrative to the cultural context or advocate for the cultural context to change,
- What does the issue do to your narrative?
- Don’t just lobby for externality – must have a balance between internal and external (not sure what this means)
- Lobbying/campaigning/raise awareness/hold to account – can do all!
- Style – aggression leads to conflict. Show willingness to compromise
- If get ‘earplay’ of Minister or Senior Civil Servant then a more rational debate can take place.
2. Politics, people and allies
- People in power may not accord with your values.
- But must interact with politics, ie. political parties
- Could attend party conferences – why? Be clear. Would you say the same to all?
- Minister /Spav (Special advisers)/ civil servants. Know who they are and their backgrounds. Identify which buttons can be pressed.
- Don’t differentiate between govt. departments – all need stakeholder engagement.
- Look at the Civil Servant Code of Conduct to understand stakeholder engagement, relationship[s, strategic alliances, connections with relevant people. We look for ‘who are the top people and what are they saying?’.
- We don’t want to go to lots of different stakeholders, Come to us collectively. If there is too much ‘noise’, danger is none gets listened to.
- Leave aside vested or silo interests
- Allies are important. Keep some that disagree with your professional ethos close to you,
- Fragmentation can be confusing and impossible to get different messages heard.
- See for example the future Vision Coalition that set out alternatives for Dobson – led to Mailer strategy for mental health
3. Understand the machinery of Government.
- Who does what.Ministers, Civil Servants, parliamentary scrutiny. Map this out. Find out who’s doing what and when and with whom.
- What will make you stand out?
- If you don’t meet the Minister don’t worry – there are multiple routes.
4. Reflection and Learning
- What’s been failing, what’s not working? Who does well and follow them and speak to them (include voluntary organisations and private organisations).
- Learn from successful others about how to get things done.
- CPD – slow influence of professions on improvements in public health – role of practice in shaping public health eg connecting programme, Dept Health – gives case studies in organisations and vice versa (??I don’t understand this).
5. Values and principles
- Maintain the values and principles of self and the professions. Some things will not fit.
- Ensure retain own values – you will regret helping to shape policies that contradict values.
- All policies re required to demonstrate that impact analyses have been done on (i) economic evidence; (ii) protected characteristics ie equlaities
- Wellbeing impact assessment is to come in – this will shift emphasis from GDP to human flourishing.
Some sources of influence in mental health policy:
- P Kirby’s blog – need to look at MH through psychosocial lens – interested to change the cultural context (‘the way we’re living’)
- Jane Watts – writing in the Independent – contributes to mass public dialogue – interest in non medical approaches
- Reiterate: do not work on your own – look for allies amongst sociologists anthropologists etc. look for the common ground
- Kahneman’s views on economics influential because challenged status quo.
Views that are different for the mainstream are welcomed.
Working to change the asylum system from a hostile to a hospitable environmentShow content
Personal reflections from Rachel Morley, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Glasgow
These are personal reflections arising from my work as a consultant clinical psychologist leading an NHS trauma service for asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow, and as a psychosocial practitioner in the British Red Cross refugee service during the Covid pandemic. They are reflections about possible roles for psychology in supporting change and change makers in times of crises.
In 2006, I started the asylum seeker and refugee user group in our trauma service and then worked alongside the group for the next 13 years. At one early meeting, after a consultation with the group about our services therapy and research programme, one service user asked what we were doing to prevent asylum seekers from being deported in “dawn raids”. Members of the group were terrified that at any time they could be taken forcibly at night, put into immigration detention for an unknown period of time and then deported to contexts of further trauma. What was a trauma service doing about the fear that was still traumatising clients on a daily basis?
The asylum system is widely acknowledged to be harsh and harsh by design. Notoriously, it aims to create a “hostile environment” to discourage those who might seek asylum from coming to the UK. Harsh and hostile systems make it difficult for those in them to thrive and flourish. As clinical psychologists working therapeutically with people seeking asylum, we can feel as if we are helping people to ad-just to the un-just; raising questions about whether the problems we formulate in clinical work do enough justice to the social context. The risk is that through this, too much of the pressure to change is left with those who are harmed by the harshness of the system.
Charles Waldegrave of the Just Therapy Centre, describes therapists as one of the professional groups who are most expert and best informed on collective levels of hurt, sadness and pain in modern countries. Those who experience pain are of course the primary experts, but he argues that therapists carry a “substantial ethical responsibility to identify, quantify and describe the severity of and causes of pain” and to “publish and publicise these so that they can be addressed in the public debate and impact on policy”
As a user group we wrote letters to the Home office and arranged meetings. We joined up with other advocacy and campaigning groups and made relationships with decision makers. We organised conferences where people spoke to invited MPs, MSPs and city councillors about how the asylum system was affecting their mental health. We participated in consultations and submissions to the Scottish and Westminster governments. The user group influenced what research the trauma service carried out e.g. on the psychological effects of destitution and detention and how the results of research were used.
There were some achievements at that time (through the collective work of many asylum seekers and refugees along with charities, the “Glasgow Girls”, community groups, politicians, lawyers, academics, faith leaders, statutory workers etc): “dawn raids” did stop, children were no longer to be held in immigration detention, in Glasgow asylum seeking parents no longer had to have their immigration interviews in front of their children. The Scottish government introduced policies to make New Scots welcome in Scotland from day one of arrival and they tried to respond to the public health crisis of asylum seekers being made destitute with no recourse to public funds. But overall aspects of the hostile environment for asylum seekers, have if anything got worse.
During Covid, key public health messages have been “stay at home” “protect the NHS” and “save lives”. Some asylum seekers in Glasgow were not allowed to “stay at home” during the pandemic, they were put in hotels in the middle of the pandemic and their financial allowance was taken away. There were serious negative consequences to this decision.
The NHS we were protecting has not felt as if it belonged to us all equally - many asylum seekers have struggled more than ever during the pandemic to access public health information, to get crisis mental health appointments and to speak to health providers with interpreters.
When it comes to “save lives”, it has seemed as if some people’s lives mattered more than others. Those from black and minority ethic communities have been far more likely to lose their lives in the pandemic. The Black Lives Matter protests have been occurring because of countless examples of black people losing their lives at the hands of those who were meant to be keeping them safe. The political attention directed to those seeking asylum and arriving in boats across the Channel during this time of COVID has patently not been about saving lives.
Asylum seekers in the UK are experiencing the crisis of Covid on top of the other crises they are already experiencing. The Glasgow trauma service user group and the Voices Ambassadors group supported by the British Red Cross, sacrifice their time and energy to change the process for themselves and for others. They want the UK to protect the human rights they thought it was famous for. They want change in the system so their mental health can improve. But being an advocate for change when you also have lived experience of the oppressive system can be gruelling and wearing.
Sustaining any advocacy and campaigning work when the system doesn’t change is enormously hard, but particularly when your very right to citizenship is still being contested, when your right to the basics of life, food and money and housing is being contested, when you can’t work to support yourself, when destitution or detention without time limit is a very present reality, when you may still be deported and face further trauma, when you can’t access the support services others take for granted…
As psychologists learn from those with lived experience, they can and should bear witness, accompany, encourage and labour alongside those who are trying to change the asylum system. One crucial thing I learned, working with the community of our user group over the years, was that the group had to “have a life of its own”. The environment that we created together could be a hospitable environment. We couldn’t wait for the system to change sufficiently before we celebrated each other’s lives, shared our talents, learned from each other and changed each other. We always ate together during our meetings. We always had an annual party as well as an annual conference . These were memorable events; always involving a shared creative activity. We planted trees, we made banners, paper flowers and candle holders, decorations for homes and presents for children. There was often music. A service user who was a concert pianist played for us and a family who had only just been reunited that week sang together to us. There was often poetry and always food. These were times of joy and sustenance both for “service users” and “service staff and even in the worst weather, they were always well attended. Minna Salami talks about the importance of joy as “the one weapon that can truly if unintentionally disarm the power of the oppressive narrative”.
It’s harder during the Covid pandemic when many people can’t be together or eat together. We have to find new creative ways to support and sustain those trying to change the asylum system and those supporting people who are going through it. Reflective practice sessions online can still be nourishing, while psychosocial accompaniment for frontline staff, volunteers and advocacy groups with lived experience is more important than ever. Sharing creative and life affirming activities online or outdoors is still possible.
Wherever there is oppression there is also resistance to oppression. We need, as Michael White, one of the originators of narrative therapy, always said, to engage in “double listening”: to listen to pain, but also listen to how pain speaks to what is precious to people, to what they value, to their ideas about what gives life and hope. We need to listen to and learn from people’s skills and resistance in the face of suffering, people’s ideas about what building back a better society after COVID could look like.
Living through Covid is not a sprint, it is a marathon - or maybe if we stick with running metaphors;- it is a relay race. We will all tire at different times and need to pass the baton to each other. Sometimes we will need to hope on behalf of each other when others are losing hope and sometimes others will hope for us. Through it all, the work to create a humane and hospitable asylum system has to go on.
As Kaethe Weingarten said:
“Hope is something we do with others. Hope is too important—its effects on body and soul too significant—to be left to individuals alone. Hope must be the responsibility of the community.”
Dialogue with lead from Jewish Welfare Board in Brighton
How can we create the light? - video interviewShow content
An Interview with Fiona Sharpe, Chairman of Brighton Hove & Sussex Jewish Welfare Board, Executive on Sussex Jewish Representative Council serving as community liaison, Trustee of Brighton & Hove Faith in Action.
Conducted by Dr Rebecca Graber, School of Applied Social Science, University of Brighton, the interview discusses issues and questions such as:
- Fiona's work and role in the Jewish Community
- the organisation's vision and ongoing aims
- the principles behind the work of the Jewish Welfare Board and how it informs the wider community
- the biggest challenges facing the Jewish community during covid-19
- the additional work that Fiona has taken on during the pandemic
- the contributions of psychology and psychologists
- ideas for how psychologists can help care for communities more broadly
How can we create the light? - interview summaryShow content
“How Can We Create the Light?”
An Interview with Fiona Sharpe, Chairman of Brighton Hove & Sussex Jewish Welfare Board, Executive on Sussex Jewish Representative Council serving as community liaison, Trustee of Brighton & Hove Faith in Action
Conducted by Dr Rebecca Graber, School of Applied Social Science, University of Brighton
Advantages of existing community infrastructures.
Faith communities and multifaith community organisations can provide supportive community infrastructures for social justice action. Sometimes this is focused within faith the community, but also more broader facing, such as in this case providing food for rough sleepers.
“We’re much more about doing social justice than faith-based activities… there will always be a need for social justice.
Faith-based communities hold an important role in those discussions, not because I think, there’s always a danger of a moral high ground or superiority, it’s not that, it’s just that we often are a tailor-made community and an audience in which to harness and it’s easier to start with something than nothing.”
The existing infrastructure enabled swift provision of social and practical support including providing shopping and the distribution of digital infrastructure.
xisting organisations matched those who needed shopping and those who could provide shopping. A Facebook group also enabled people to match with each other informally.
As many people were not working or were working from home, community members were available to help each other.
Ongoing challenges of digital communication and digital exclusion.
An initial challenge was just how to reach people in the community:
“we set up phone trees, a weekly Zoom call, and it was just making sure that we got that message out as far and wide as we could, so we set up different Facebook groups, and used all the synagogue mailing lists, there were some ad hoc groups…”
This difficulty was intensified by a degree of digital exclusion:
“The local community is an aging community. So it was a practical issue of how do we connect people when they can’t connect face to face?
So we had by the second or third week of lockdown… we had set up a weekly Zoom call for anyone in the community who wanted to join.
So we had to give a lot of people lessons on how they download Zoom, we had to get people computers, we had to get people technology, we had to find ways for people who didn’t have technology to hook in their phone.”
The reliance on digital communication is an ongoing challenge:
“it’s how we get that technology, how we enable them to use it.
So part of that is a funding issue… and part of that is having people that can explain how to use things when you can’t go into someone’s home”.
Additionally users may face mobility barriers. The local Jewish care home have set up effective technology on a communal level using large screens.
Intersections between faith communities and broader social justice work
While there may be faith-based imperatives for forming these infrastructures, functionally they are focused on addressing social problems through, for example, provision of food aid or funds.
Some of these social problems may be hidden or stigmatized:
“...this is one of those myths about Jewish communities, we are not a disproportionately wealthy faith.
There are many many families right here in Sussex living on the poverty line.”
There are benefits to the person providing support, not only the recipient; for example even a person who is socially isolating would call a list of other people to check in on them, and feel good about that.
“Tikkun olam literally means to repair the world, and I think that we all have the responsibility and the obligation to repair and to help our own little corners of the world… particularly over the last seven months we can all have an impact on a very small part of our world, but if everyone got involved in what’s going on either side of their home, with their neighbours, you see those ripples.”
Leaders in faith communities can act as bridges with broader social justice actions, encouraging faith organisations to look outwards to support vulnerable persons
“the community has supported itself as well through those projects… when you’re very involved in a community, your work informs the community and the community informs what you do, so I think there’s a nice symbiosis of how it’s not necessarily based in the community but the community becomes involved because they know what I do.”
Acute and long-term challenges of addressing social isolation and maintaining a sense of community
It became immediately important to address social isolation and find creative ways to maintain belonging in community.
One technique that worked well during lockdown was a weekly Zoom call open to anyone in the community with a different guest speaker each week, led by Fiona.
This ceased over the summer when people were getting out and about and volunteers could use a break, but many phone check-ins have continued as people have formed friendships, and the infrastructure remains for mutual aid shopping.
The cessation of in-person services was isolating as this was important social contact:
“...especially people who live by themselves.
Those regular shabbat services where they would go and they would see people, not out of a sense of religion but out of a sense of connecting.
The challenges are much more psychological and much more social-based moving into the winter of how we can do that adequately.”
More than addressing isolation is a related, but conceptually distinct question, of how to maintain a sense of community in a virtual format.
Historically, this community has thrived on face-to-face interactions: not only services but culture offerings, exercise groups, communal meals, lunch clubs for older people.
Food plays a large role as an incentive for isolated people to engage with their community, but in identity and historical tradition as well:
“Often we would have older people who would say no, I don’t need to see people, I don’t need to talk to people, I’m not interested in playing cards… and you would say okay, so just come and have a hot meal.
So that’s how you get people in, that’s the hook… how do you draw people into a community when actually you’re telling them that they can’t go outside their doors?”
Supporting volunteers through fatigue and despair
Community helpers have experienced deep fatigue.
The work has been relentless despite boundaries upon the role and, in this case, an existing practice of refraining from work on a day of observance, which fell to the wayside during COVID.
“Everyone is identifying this COVID fatigue… I think also part of it is that volunteers need a break.
You had a small number of volunteers, me certainly for one of them, who were truly exhausted, I was working seven days a week… officially I’m a consultant but… people call at all hours.”
She observes that particularly in her work with the general community, volunteers have had contact with vulnerable populations, witnessed or experienced illness, and experienced bereavements including loss from suicide.
Volunteers may not know where to go for support with these experiences, there is not necessarily a system of referrals or information about how best to help each other through this.
Additionally, some older people are afraid of contacting doctors or attending a GP surgery for fear of contracting COVID.
There could be a particular use for psychologist support of volunteers whether this is within faith communities or the general community:
“I think there is definitely a place for more input from psychologists from people that can offer insight into things like the COVID fatigue, into resilience, how you keep up this level of exhaustion and panic and fear on an ongoing basis.
How you counter that, how people volunteering protect themselves, and probably there hasn’t been enough thought around supporting volunteers, and I think that’s because… the provisions that were set up initially were done on an emergency basis, so they were done very quickly.
And it’s only now I think that people are beginning to think about all those people involved, what have they seen, what have they experienced.”
Practical toolkits, including reminders for self-care and awareness of mental distress markers, would be helpful
These could take the form of webinars, video chats and short articles community newsletters.
Psychologists could make themselves available and make suggestions about how to foster community and support mental health.
“A lot of community leaders are tired and are running out of ideas but also so caught up in the very practical that they don’t have time to think of some of the psychological”.
This support would be welcome for community leaders and members alike:
“ [We] hear from maybe spiritual leaders sometimes but… the same way that it’s important to hear from healthcare professionals about what symptoms you should be looking out for, you know coughs or… I think it’s time for the psychology community to step forward and say, you know what? These are some of the things that you should be looking at.
And noticing that say that maybe you’re getting a little bit frayed at the edges and these are some things you can do that can help you… acknowledging that these things are happening is not a weakness.
I think it’s about normalising the fatigue and the stress…I’m not seeing as much about older people and how they are suffering and how this isolation is affecting them.”
Psychologists have not yet formally contributed to this community work, but support would be welcome.
Fiona has some background in counselling and psychology and therefore maintains awareness of these issues in her work.
Disruption to grieving
Traditional grieving rituals have been disrupted, with negative psychological impact.
In Judaism people are buried within 24 hours or 48 hours, followed by a period of shiva over seven days whereby the family who are mourning stay home.
Traditionally, community members enter the home, take care the bereaved so they can focus on mourning, and share stories of the past.
This structure, which many Jews take for granted as a foundation, has been dismantled under COVID.
“It’s a wonderful time actually because it gives structure to grief… and it’s a really wonderful way to share bereavement… but obviously because of COVID you can’t have that.
You can’t have people into your home, and you don’t have anyone to share those memories with… we always talk about the English not talking about death… but this is a way that you celebrate it.
And I hear again and again from bereaved people how difficult it is, not having that structure.”
There are conversations with rabbis about how to support bereaved people within the restrictions, but there is a need for psychologists to help support this work and create new ways of supporting bereaved people virtually.
Loss of hope going into winter
Among community leaders and volunteers is a sense of despair over the winter ahead, knowing from experience that winter is usually tough but with the additional challenges of COVID.
“...going into the winter there is a real sense of fatigue.
I think older people are scared, I think people are very very tired, they haven’t seen family and friends, and I think we have a growing mental health issue… with people who don’t always recognize poor mental health as being worthy of addressing, so it’s about finding ways of connecting with people that isn’t intrusive but is regular.”
Key autumn and winter holiday traditions, as well as traditional lifecycle celebrations, have been disrupted, inducing despair:
“I think as humans we survive by having things to look forward to. And COVID has robbed everyone of that.
So that makes going into the winter, when it is realistically dark, feel even darker.
So what do we do to create the light, and to create things for people to look forward to when realistically they don’t have a lot to look forward to?”
Recommendation for practiceShow content
Recommendations for practice:
Develop working relationships with faith- and multi-faith organisations that connect to marginalised members of the community
Attune to the psychological impact of the disruption to key grieving rituals across different faith traditions including the possibility of bereavement-related trauma
Offer support to experienced and novice frontline organisers and volunteers who may be experiencing fatigue and distress during the later wave(s) of the pandemic
Develop user-friendly, culturally sensitive resources for (and ideally in partnership with) members of faith communities, providing tips for self-care and generating awareness of how mental distress may present. Consider using inclusive print-based media.
Work with faith communities and care facilities to address social isolation and digital exclusion of community members, especially older persons, while noting fatigue around screen-based interactions during the winter months. This may include provision of funding, hardware and training, and support of creative forms of services and community activities.
Work with faith communities to effectively raise awareness of mental distress, especially where these communities may not feel this is worth addressing or where this affects people’s willingness to engage with medical services to address physical health concerns.