Helping isolated communities navigate access to mental health support

My name is Jade, and I’m the Navigator for the North Wales region. I’m based in Porthmadog, Gwynedd within a resource centre operated by Adferiad. I also work in the resource centre supporting people with mental health issues, so the navigator role fits in well alongside this other role.

Trigger warning: This article mentions self harming


The role of the North Wales navigator is to work with other third sector organisations, councils and the local health board to identify and document mental health and community services across North Wales. The aim is to provide emotional and social support to people struggling with their mental health and refer them to identified services for additional support.

As navigators, we support numerous people who live in isolated communities and therefore face many challenges in accessing mental health support. Because of their rural locations, they are often not fully aware of what support is available to them, and how to go about accessing it. Rural living can be very isolating for people and, due to their locations, there is limited peer-to-peer support and a lack of appropriate services to protect their mental health. Another challenge they face is the transport barrier. As they live very rurally, there are not necessarily frequent public transport services, and if there are, they can result in being quite costly and very lengthy. For example, a trip from Dolgellau in South Gwynedd to Bangor in North Gwynedd on a bus is around a one and a half hour  journey (one way).

During the pandemic, most services generally stopped offering face-to-face support and moved to Zoom, telephone support etc. For many clients this support did not work as they felt unable to engage for a range of reasons. For example, to use Zoom you need a WiFi connection and a device such as a laptop or phone, some of which people didn’t have or couldn’t use properly, as they didn’t have the skills or knowledge to use their devices. Other barriers included a lack of resources or funds to provide internet connections and poor or sometimes no signal.

In North Wales during the early days of the pandemic the health board initially mistakenly sent discharge letters to over 1,700 clients which caused many to panic and then lose trust in the services and systems. People were then reinstated on a priority basis depending on their current needs at that time, so those not deemed as ‘high need’ were not receiving anywhere near the level of support that they had previously been receiving. Over time, this caused a deterioration in their mental health and wellbeing, and in some cases caused an admission to hospital or a need for crisis intervention support, which could potentially have been avoided.

All of these issues led to people feeling even more lonely and isolated, as they said they had felt abandoned, forgotten and unsupported.

The navigator programme has allowed us to be a point of contact to gather and share information on the appropriate support services available for clients to access. It’s allowed us to signpost them to these services and help them overcome any barriers they may have to accessing support.

The people we have helped, who have fed back to us, have stated how valuable the support has been. They say they did not know where to turn and what or who is available to support them and without this service they would have continued to struggle on and may not have been able to carry on any longer.

We’ve supported one couple to each seek and access support for themselves both individually, as they both have their own mental health problems, and as carers for each other. They’re now both being supported by the Community Mental Health teams in their own rights, a counselling service, and they’re also receiving help around their financial situations.

The navigator programme is important as it provides a valuable service to enable people to confidently reach out for advice, information and support.

– Jade

Another young person with complex needs that we have supported was homeless and in regular contact with the authorities. Due to their hardships they have been using the emergency services on a regular basis due to self-harming behaviours and physical health issues. Before navigators stepped in she was was not accessing services that could sustainably support her. She is now in supported accommodation and getting the care she needs.

The navigator programme is important as it provides a valuable service to enable people to confidently reach out for advice, information and support and get signposted to further services that they may not already be aware of. This can also help them know that they’re not alone in their struggles and support is available. By having a point of contact they can hopefully rest assured that someone is available when they need it, which in turn will help them feel less lonely.

Services such as the Rural Connections project are vital in helping people to reduce feelings of isolation, connect to a wide range of support services, and in turn improve both their mental and physical health. This goes on to help them live a better quality of life, aiding their own recovery.

Your donation will make the difference

Just £10 could help pay for a call to our advice and information line, supporting someone living with mental illness who may be feeling in distress during this time.

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