The theme of The Fed’s Pesach Appeal is loneliness – an affliction suffered by too many who live in our warm Jewish community – even in normal times.
The theme was conceived months ago, long before these extraordinary times. Its purpose was to highlight the isolation of those housebound by physical disability; alienated by mental ill-health; bereaved or living hundreds, even thousands of miles from family.
We wanted to remind people how The Fed takes on this societal scourge – offering care, friendship and professional support.
We could never have imagined how pertinent our appeal would become; how the global crisis would force most in our community into lockdown and move thousands overnight into the ranks of the ‘socially isolated’ – giving us an unwelcome, hopefully short-lived, taste of what the long-term lonely must contend with as a norm.
Thank G-d for staff looking after people at Heathlands Village and keeping them socialising, stimulated and entertained. Anyone using social media cannot have missed the flow of posts put out by The Fed over recent days showing how life is going in our Prestwich oasis.
Thank G-d too for our community teams – our CAST social workers and advice and support workers; our volunteer coordinators and volunteers. Together they are checking on the most vulnerable and isolated in our midst – largely elderly people living alone – but not exclusively so.
They are receiving and taking calls; emailing; ringing doorbells; making sure people know they are not forgotten; have essential shopping and medication; taking them to critical medical appointments; delivering good wishes; providing reassurance and encouragement especially to those who are mentally unwell.
The global crisis is playing havoc with our mental wellbeing. Anxiety levels are spiralling even for most phlegmatic. Imagine the impact on those who already struggle to control negative thoughts and balance their emotions.
I chatted this week to Elly, a 24-year-old first-year university student and single mum to 5-year-old Ruby. They live in a tiny one-bed flat, ‘just above the poverty line’.
‘Having very little money isolates you from other people – not just me but Ruby too. We can’t afford to do much at all – like making her a birthday party or even taking her to another child’s party – I can’t afford the return bus or taxi fare or to buy a gift – so you make an excuses.’
Adding to her sense of being an outsider is Elly’s history of poor mental health which mostly she says she has been able to deal with herself by ‘practising self-help’.
But things became extremely challenging for her about a year ago. She had had suspicions from when Ruby was a toddler that she might have a mental or behavioural disorder: ‘She’s hyperactive; she does not make much eye contact and she can be very physically aggressive.’
When her tantrums started to become even more violent and frequent – on one occasion ‘busting’ her mother’s lip and nose, Elly approached her GP who referred Ruby to CAMMS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). She is still awaiting an assessment.
As any first-time parent knows, the early years of bringing up a child can be an especially trying and isolating experience. Adding into the mix Elly’s negligible family contact, scarcity of money; history of poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression and a child exhibiting severe behavioural issues, she found herself in a very low place, ‘feeling really hopeless, struggling to get out of bed because of feelings of overwhelming dread and sadness. There’s been times that meant Ruby has missed school.’
She recognised she needed help.
‘It was a nightmare. I felt like a bad mum. I decided to reach out to The Fed. I was aware they could help me but didn’t know exactly how. I’d no idea they would allocate me my own social worker and offer ongoing support.’
‘My social worker is lovely warm person and having her has been a very good experience. I not on my own with my problems anymore. Having that support there when if I’m in a very distressed place; knowing there’s someone whose professional advice I can trust; that she will talk me through ways to cope if Ruby’s behaviour has been really bad. ‘
‘She’s helped me in so many ways: she advised me to speak to my GP and get referred for a parenting course. That was very helpful. She got me onto the housing waiting list. She’s helped me fill out official forms. She took me when I had to have a medical procedure not long ago and there was no one else to support me.
She’s offered help in taking Ruby to school when I’ve been really bad. She got in touch with school for me and extra support was put in place and she comes to school meetings with me.’
‘Overall, she has helped get my whole situation under control and has given me a lot more confidence as a parent – I used to be afraid of taking Ruby out and about because of her having tantrums in public but I’m not anymore – not that I can now right now with the current lockdown.’
‘The coronavirus is causing me anxiety because Ruby is still attending school and I wonder if this is the right thing to do but she’s classed as a vulnerable child because of our financial situation.
I can’t afford to not send her to school at the moment. It means she is getting a good free hot meal every day and that she has a proper structure to her day.’
‘Without school we’d be cooped up in our tiny flat with all her energy and I believe it would send her backwards. I can’t let that happen after she’s taken so many steps forward with the help and support I’ve had from my Fed social worker.’
‘Even today she’s been emailing me to check I’m ok and see if I need anything. I’ve got The Fed. I’m not alone.’