We have just come to the end of one the most challenging years we could never have imagined. As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world wreaking havoc on physical health as well as the entire socio- economic underpinnings of countries, each person, regardless of age, race, or class, was affected. Quarantine measures and lockdowns in nearly every society caused a general sense of uncertainty to pervade. Social distancing forced us to change our lives, our habits, the way we work, and primarily how we interact with one another.
The impact of the Covid-19 on mental health has been devastating. With countries experiencing disruptions to national mental health systems, the pandemic created a host of new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness. At the same time, widespread loneliness and dealing with traumatic events in isolation have increased anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders in people who did not previously struggle with mental health issues. Leading with our compassion and in line with our mission, we felt compelled to act. We decided to take a two-fold approach; we would continue supporting our existing partners for an additional year and launch the COVID-19 Emergency Fund.
We began by reaching out to all of our partners to discuss how to face the varying new challenges, each of which took time to revise and replan their activities according to the different phases of the pandemic. Many of our partners were ending their projects in 2020 and we realized that it was important to support them in a longer-term perspective to have the possibility to plan better exit strategies. Maintaining a high level of flexibility and regularly meeting with partners were key actions to easing the process of change. Across all projects, some adjustments were common. For example, the provision of personal protective equipment for personnel and patients, training, and community sensitizations on how to face the pandemic, and the use of technology to continue providing psychosocial support remotely in cases where it was not possible in-person.
Concurrently, our Covid-19 Emergency Fund took root. The Fund places a special focus on addressing the mental health impacts of the pandemic and offers much needed support to projects implemented in Italy and Switzerland, two of the most affected countries at the time we opened the call. Projects were selected based on how closely they address the needs of several key populations; the psychiatric, psychological, and psychosocial support needs of Coronavirus patients or family members of patients; people with psychiatric disorders that, due to the crisis, were more vulnerable; individuals in need of psychological support due to isolation, anxiety, and stress; and the mental health needs of health personnel. As a result, new partnerships were initiated with Soleterre Onlus, CBM Italia Onlus, and AVSI.
You will find below, a brief description of each of these three projects.
Psychological support for people affected by Covid-19
This project aims to improve the psychological wellbeing of Covid-19 patients and families who may have lost a loved one, people in particular situations of psycho-social fragility worsened by the Covid-19 emergency, and health personnel. At the Hospital S. Matteo, in Pavia, intensive psychological support has been provided in person to medical staff using Soleterre’s therapeutic model, a complex measurement system able to trace PTSD and other psychological issues in Covid-affected people. At the national level Soleterre identified psychologists for each region and trained them to manage the potential Covid-19 trauma. Patients and families making a direct request for help by calling a free number are put in contact with a Soleterre psychologist for a first triage. A maximum of 5 sessions, conducted as much as possible in person, are then guaranteed for each person and eventually referral is available. Soleterre has also signed collaboration agreements with organizations, cooperatives, and associations, all of whom had recorded an increase in requests for the provision of psychological support.
You Cure, I Listen
CBM Italia Onlus
Throughout the whole of the Covid-19 emergency, doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators have worked tirelessly to treat an extreme influx of patients as well as to keep entire health systems afloat. We think of these individuals as our fearless heroes, but as a result, their mental wellbeing often gets overlooked. This project, based within Milan’s Humanitas S.Pio X Hospital, aims to build the resilience of those on the front lines of the emergency. Working together with CBM and the hospital, MultiVersa, an organization whose mission is to develop a sustainable model for work-life balance, has put forth a 3-tiered intervention; psycho-education groups to help health personnel cope with stress and activate their potential resources, individual therapeutic sessions for those who may need them the most, and training for those in managerial roles to provide them with tools to manage teamwork under pressure. Every role within the hospital was considered in the design of this project and through the use of MultiVersa’s external consultants, health personnel are provided an additional layer of confidentiality allowing them to genuinely open up and address the challenges they face.
CURE- CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS AT DISTANCE
With a strict lockdown in place, many families felt isolated. Families who needed support because they had sick loved ones at home were left alone and parents had to deal with the new challenges faced by their children. On top of that many individuals lost their jobs creating severe financial hardships and an economic crisis.
This project aims to strengthen a network of aid organizations rooted in Milan which, due to the pandemic, require further assistance to guarantee psychosocial support for the vulnerable families living in one of the most impoverished areas of the city. The network of organizations partnering with AVSI have already built a personal relationship with each of the families and provides a team of operators who carry out home visits.
Facing such unprecedented circumstances, the operators themselves were not prepared to deal with the emergency. To support the network, Resilience Onlus Association, composed of a multidisciplinary team, provided operators with training on resilience building, positive parenting, trauma, and psychological issues as a consequence of the pandemic. With these new tools the operators have been able to enhance and promote the psychological and social resources of each family and to provide effective techniques to parents and caregivers to manage the emotions of their children. Most importantly, through regular supervision, operators have a space to share their challenges and ask for support to deal with the most difficult cases.
Throughout this year it was normal to feel vulnerable and fragile, but it was also an opportunity to re-discover ourselves, value what we felt was most important, and take nothing for granted. We were indeed impressed by the strong resilience of our partners and by their capacity to find effective and concrete solutions to problems they were facing. We give a tremendous thank you to all of them without whom this work would not be possible; Fondazione Internazionale don Luigi di Liegro, Fundatia Inocenti, Mission Bambini, Fracarita Belgium, World Health Organization, the Center for Victims of Torture, Fondation les réfugiés d’hier accueillent les réfugiés d’aujourd’hui, Fondation Recherche Perinatalité, Children Action, AVSI, CBM Italia Onlus, and Soleterre.
Fondation d’Harcourt is proud to have played a role in alleviating some of the suffering and hardship caused by the pandemic and will continue working in 2021 to make a difference in the lives of people suffering from mental illness, their families, and communities.
We hope that you and your families have managed to stay safe and healthy. As we near the holiday season, we would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year where health, strength and joy prevail.