Sunbeams London

09 September 2021

COVID-Connect, a project run by Sunbeams London is funded by People’s Health Trust using money raised by Health Lottery London East. The project provides emotional wellbeing support for vulnerable Orthodox Jewish girls, age 9-16 living in Hackney.

The project was established as a direct response to COVID-19 and the rising mental health issues that were evident in young girls who have faced bereavement and social isolation leading to anxiety and low-mood throughout the pandemic. Like many People’s Health Trust funded projects, Sunbeams has had to step in to provide mental health support which meets the specific needs of their community.

In the Trust’s latest COVID-19 survey we asked funded partners about the impacts of pandemic, 97% of project leads said mental health was an area of concern for the people they were working with.

For Sunbeams London this continues to be the case as they support people through the aftermath of the pandemic as well as the ongoing and changing rules. Their emotional group support project started in April 2021 and has been running at 100% capacity, supporting 60 girls aged 9-16.

The project provides a safe space where the participants can access emotional support, share their experiences and develop techniques for dealing with mental health issues and difficult emotions and behaviours such as anxiety and anger.

The Orthodox Jewish community in the UK has been disproportionately impacted by infection and mortality rates relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sunbeams have seen the effects of these disproportionate impacts and the cultural significance they have occurred under.

Many participants of the Sunbeams project have experienced bereavement of a close family member during COVID-19. Due to the tradition of living in inter-generational homes and younger members having caring responsibilities for older generations, these bereavements have been very prominent events in their lives.

Yenti Friedmann, project lead, said:

“Lots of young people in our community have found it difficult to seek support for poor mental health. Around 28% of referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Hackney have their cases closed before they’re seen by a mental health professional. In the Orthodox Jewish community there is also a hesitancy to get referred to CAMHS due to the stigma surrounding mental health and a lack of understanding around the specific needs of the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Sunbeams are not only providing their own support but have used their position in the community to begin to build better relationships with local healthcare services and schools. They are continuing to work with CAMHS to improve understanding of the Orthodox Jewish community within their services so that more young people can feel comfortable to access support. Sunbeams are also accepting referrals from CAMHS for young people who are not at immediate high risk and can benefit from their support.

Sunbeams’ overall aim is to support project participants to be able to leave their services feeling more confident about managing their emotional health and wellbeing. They regularly measure impact and are already starting to see progress with 40% of participants showing significant progress in feeling more able to cope with difficult emotions.

As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to present to young people it is likely more support for mental health will be needed. Sunbeams services and the work they are doing to form partnerships will be vital to support this community into the future.

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