As a charity, we realise that we are needed now, more than ever and there is a real concern around the impact COVID-19 is having on maintaining positive mental health for families that have or are going through a difficult time, trying to shield their critically vulnerable children who are already living with a potentially fatal condition. We are already working in collaboration with Bristol Children's Hospital by providing an alternative source of considered information on hospital appointments, procedures and conditions through peer-to-peer support. However, the Lead Nurse, Sheena Vernon from the Congenital Heart Disease Network has expressed her concerns on the need for more support around mental health and wellbeing for families dealing with congenital heart disease (CHD) and other related conditions.
We have listened carefully to our Heart Hero community to determine how we can best support vulnerable children and their families during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Families have reported that;
- Poor mental health of both parents and children has been exacerbated by new stress factors related to the COVID-19 crisis
- Anxiety is heightened by concerns around hygiene at school and the workplace
- There is a lack of support and limited opportunities for isolated families to connect
- Children are withdrawn and isolation has exacerbated the sense of disconnection from friends and society from lack of social interaction
- It is difficult to access relevant support as health services are stretched to their full capacity.
Heart Heroes want to ensure that every voice is heard within our community, and expand our offering to meet the increased need for mental health service provision in the South West. We need to ensure that we support the mental health and well-being of families, particularly addressing the added concerns coronavirus is causing now and in the future as early identification and treatment for anxiety prevents long term mental health issues. Unfortunately, self-funded counselling sessions are not an option for most families, and there are limited social support groups operating due to current government guidelines, meaning that families in distress have nowhere to turn. We need to address this now, as the level of uncertainty is rising. Funding will enable us to provide;
- Virtual therapists/counsellors to children and families most in need within the South West
- Develop a more advanced online support forum which will enable:
- access to an online chatroom for our parent community
- questions and answers around how best to support critically vulnerable children during the COVID-19 crisis
- online videos on practical care for children with CHD, produced by the Cardiac Ward Sister at Bristol Children’s Hospital
- awareness of available support and possibilities that may help to alleviate families’ mental distress
- Set up virtual social groups for both children and parents to support mindfulness and emotional wellbeing, particularly during isolation. These virtual group sessions will include:
- art activities for children
- music groups for babies and toddlers
- coffee mornings for parents to share any concerns
- virtual cookery classes with ingredients included for the most disadvantaged families