The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected everyone in Northern Ireland, but those who were already vulnerable have been hardest hit, a new report reveals.
 
More than 80 people from community and voluntary sector organisations as well as statutory agencies gathered online for the Living Well with the Ongoing Impacts of Covid-19 conference at the end of June. All of those attending work on the frontline of helping people and communities cope with the mental health and well-being challenges created by the pandemic.

Download a Summary of the Discussions at the online seminar

Front cover image of the Living Well with the Ongoing Impact of COVID-19 report

 
The aim was to discuss the findings of a survey conducted by Developing Healthy Communities. The report, launched at the event by Mayor of Derry and Strabane Cllr Brian Tierney, reflected the views of 146 community and voluntary sector organisations about the challenges created by COVID-19 and recommendations for addressing these.
 
Isolation was named as the main mental health impact of the crisis, while supporting those who are vulnerable or at risk in their communities is the top priority for the majority (80%) of organisations which took part in the research.
 
Erin Richardson, chief executive, Developing Healthy Communities, said:

“The pandemic has affected all parts of society and challenged our previous understanding of those ‘in need’.
 
“The worst off, the most vulnerable, have been hardest hit by the pandemic, especially those struggling with mental health or addiction issues. Moreover, existing health inequalities have deepened.”

Praising the response of community and voluntary organisations, she noted they they had “adapted quickly and creatively, and gone the extra mile, to provide vital physical, social and mental health supports” when our most vulnerable people were cut off their personal and professional support systems.
 

  


Newly appointed Interim Mental Health Champion, Prof. Siobhan O Neill, who attended the conference, commented:

“Developing Healthy Communities’ report has highlighted the range of the mental health and well-being challenges we face as a result of COVID-19, particularly for those who were already experiencing difficulties. 

“It is important that we focus on how to address these challenges, which include ensuring that the right supports are available when where and when they are needed and well as delivering public health messaging which supports mental health and well-being.”

Paul Cavanagh, Commissioning Lead (West), Health and Social Care Board, spoke at the event, he said:

 “Coming together through the Healthy Cities initiative is an important way in which we can start to develop the sort of innovative solutions we will need to tackle the health challenges that we face, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


“Collaboration is key to us achieving the new solutions we will need. The community and voluntary sector has undoubtedly responded quickly and creatively to a crisis, as has the health service, and it is important that we connect and learn from our experience to date.”