This week marks the start of a 5-week campaign, led by a coalition of our statutory health partners across Northern Ireland, ‘Working Together to Promote Mental Wellbeing in NI’.

The campaign reflects many of the key areas of our work in Developing Healthy Communities and we are pleased to support its important message around ‘Take 5 Steps to Wellbeing’

This week promotes the first of the 5 Steps, ‘Connection’ and it also coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day which also focuses on the importance of connecting to prevent suicide. 

Connection and relationships fulfil a fundamental human need and are therefore crucial to our wellbeing. The pandemic has brought this sharply into focus and, for many people, provided a new perspective on the importance of connection and relationships in both our personal and professional lives.

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Many of us were very aware of the impact of isolation on people’s mental health and wellbeing long before COVID-19 entered our lives. The recent Developing Healthy Communities’ report ‘Living Well with the ongoing impact of COVID-19’ highlights that isolation is now the number one concern among community and voluntary sector organisations supporting people and communities.

As we continue to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, working together to find innovative ways to meaningfully connect will be an important focus of our work.

During Developing Healthy Communities’ online seminar ‘Living Well with the ongoing impact of COVID-19’  which followed the report, Connection was one of three main themes which emerged, alongside the interconnected themes of Humanity and Leadership.

More than 70 people, from community and voluntary organisations as well as the statutory sector, took part in conversations during the online seminar. They spoke about some of the positive aspects of their experience in lockdown in relation to connection and the possibilities for growing connection to improve our health and happiness as we live with COVID-19.

Despite new challenges in physically reaching our friends, families and those who need support in our communities, the experiences shared showed greater connections between families and communities.

Connections were strengthened in numerous ways, including finding new methods of delivering health and community services, people giving and receiving more ‘informal care’ from family and friends, and families spending more time together. People were keen to use this time as an opportunity to transform how we deliver services and how we work, to better serve our social and emotional needs and focus more holistically on ‘the whole person’.

There was also a recognition that, while technology has served us well in many ways during lockdown, there are issues to address to ensure connection remains inclusive of those currently facing digital exclusion, such as older people, people living in a rural community, people with a disability or others without the resources or skills to harness connections through the use of technology.

People also talked about connecting with a newfound awareness of our common humanity. That no matter what our age, profession or social status, our common experience as people has become apparent and important to us all as we focus on getting through these difficult times together.

The connections created at our seminar and throughout the response to COVID-19 also showed that partnership work could be quick and effective when everyone involved was focused on a common goal.  Participants praised the strength in agencies and sectors working together in ways which were previously thought to be slow and overly bureaucratic. Many participants also commented on a newfound respect and understanding for the work of the community and voluntary sector in mobilising quickly and reaching the most vulnerable in a time of great need.

From the feedback we received, it was clear that people really valued the opportunity to come together - to share information, knowledge and learning from their experiences.

There was agreement that we shouldn’t lose the greater understanding and connection which has been built. Now is the time to ask “what is possible?” and “how do we get there together?”

Developing Healthy Communities intends to create more spaces for connection, information sharing and innovation. So, let us know where you think we should start our next conversation, by email to [email protected].