COVID-19: Addressing the wellbeing of residents living in an apartment block in the UK
We are all living in a strange time as trauma workers. If we are lucky enough to live in a country that is not at war, we are experiencing the unusual situation of aiding traumatised people whilst we share being in a dangerous situation. How do we help ourselves to aid others in these circumstances? Helping to facilitate creativity and collaboration with our own neighbours and local environment provides the double benefit of improving the environment in which we all live.
This article presents an example of a model we created in a block of 72 flats in the UK. We thought our model might be of interest as the residents are diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounding. The block consists of second homers, renters, owner-occupiers ranging from families with babies here only just before lockdown to older people still shielding, people self-isolating, people with life-limiting health problems, mental health problems, the bereaved, the celebrating and those who were working from home.
The project began in March 2020. A retired Nightingale nurse (MB), who trained at the first Florence Nightingale School of Nursing, St Thomas’ Hospital, London and is currently a University researcher working with people with life-limiting conditions, became aware of a number of residents who were experiencing COVID-19 type symptoms and felt very unwell. She (MB) recognised the need for a therapist to join her and with the support of the Board who manage the block and others, a COVID-19 advisory team (CAT) was set up. Together with the Board, they designed a strategic model that specifically focussed on the risks, impact and implications on the health and social needs of residents and then went about implementing this on an ongoing basis. This was beyond the advice provided for owners and landlords during the global pandemic.
Prior to the UK Government’s “lockdown”, the Board and Maintenance Team were already initiating, implementing and monitoring the health and safety risks within the building, whilst the CAT team provided physical, practical, emotional and spiritual support when required.
As the CAT members included a GP, retired nurse, psychotherapist and Editor, there was an important range of skills with which to collaborate. Together with the Board, there was a shared weekly meeting to discuss problems, steps forward and to troubleshoot. The Maintenance supervisor attended this meeting as well so ideas could be swiftly implemented.
Maintaining cleanliness in the shared areas, sharing in deliveries, sanitising hands, rulings of one person in the lift only and other posters around the building added to the social cohesion and safety of the block . There was practical support, tips for self-isolation where necessary, virtual one-to-one, in-confidence counselling and medical advice.
A WhatsApp group was started which allowed a range of thoughts and feelings and practical ideas to be expressed. Clapping for the National Health Service on a Thursday evening at 8pm allowed a feeling of being linked together with the outside world. A playing of shared music on balconies followed, as well as virtual quizzes and story-times for children.
Three newsletters were provided which included details of local support groups available for physical and mental health problems, emotional advice as well as maintenance notices regarding improvements to the block. The fact we had a professional Editor aided good design and layout! The final newsletter focussed on creative celebration of the block with poems, art, tips for survival, a ‘kids corner’ and news items. Here is a small extract from our first newsletter:-
Emotional First Aid
Acknowledge that these are different times and that stress is almost inevitable.
Acknowledge how much of our lives will now be different
Acknowledge that with a plague we are facing the possibility of death for ourselves or our loved ones
Acknowledge that with a plague we face the fear of contaminating or being contaminated
Acknowledge that the only certainty is uncertainty but that we can do our best to achieve the best goals
Acknowledge that cyber-intimacy is now going to temporarily supplant physical intimacy
Acknowledge that a percentage of those who have been unloved and deprived will not feel like protecting themselves or others
Acknowledge that a percentage of those who have been unloved and deprived will want to feel immortal and immune to any danger
Acknowledge gratitude for the freedom we have had to congregate, to shop, to walk and to visit for all the years up until now
Acknowledge the will for creativity and collaboration in the majority of the population.
We have received individual and group feedback that there is a greater sense of neighbourliness in the block. This has added to the feeling of emotional safety. The speed of ideas becoming implemented due to the collaboration between the Board, CAT and Maintenance Supervisor has also enhanced the sense of physical safety.
We have noted the different developmental hurdles coronavirus causes for babies, toddlers, latency children, adolescents, young adults, millennials, the middle aged, people with life-limiting conditions and the elderly and have provided psycho-education on the specific issues for each age . There have been different benefits for each age group, either shared publicly or privately.
Sharing fears and hopes has made the block itself a home as well as the apartments within it. It has been possible to share losses, bereavements, breakups, hopes for new relationships , pregnancy and ageing .
Trauma workers require a safe internal and external home from which to offer support to those who have no internal home. At this time of coronavirus, we have three key issues to report:
Some survivors feel relief that “normal” people show and express fear of coronavirus and it helps them feel ordinary. “If normal people had a family like mine then they would feel like me” said one.
Some survivors feel their own unique trauma has been subsumed into a larger social disturbance and minimised or ignored.
Attachment and hope bind all of us together and can help us through this crisis.
We hope this article will help others living in similar circumstances.