STILL SHOWING SUPPORT Mary Jackson, Tacú Project Co-ordinator of the Family Resource Centre in Ballinrobe (left, pictured with Maureen Doherty) has been providing support to young and old since the pandemic began back in March. Pic Trish Forde
“MY biggest concern is that we will have an avalanche of mental health issues out of this.”
Those are the stark words of Mary Jackson, the Tacú Project Co-ordinator of the Family Resource Centre in Ballinrobe, who have found themselves busier than ever providing various levels of support to the wider community in South Mayo, as people try and come to terms with the past six months.
The centre has been working with people of all ages, along with families, throughout the pandemic and Mary has witnessed first-hand the mental struggle people are facing. However, they’ve been working behind the scenes to help these people out.
“The more the lockdown went on, the more you could see the struggle,” Mary told The Mayo News. “People were safe, physically, but I suppose my biggest concern is that we will have an avalanche of mental health issues out of this.
“We’ve responded to that as best we can, by getting professional volunteers some counsellors and youth workers available to provide support for people who may have suffered grief or isolation, and that was done through the phone and it was very successful.”
The crew in the centre teamed up with the Believe in Ballinrobe initiative during lockdown to widen their area of support to the community and Mary says she was ‘blown away’ by the level of community spirit shown.
For example they took ownership of the ‘befriending service’, where regular phone-calls were made on a sometimes daily basis to a database of around 90 people, just to check-in and say hello.
“The biggest thing out of that was hearing how lonely people were and how great it felt hearing a voice,” Mary added. “They were missing their grandchildren and that real human contact.”
That social interaction and the comfort it provides is a huge part of the centre’s services, but that was hugely impacted through Covid-19 with the guidelines no longer allowing that.
“A lot of people are just very socially isolated and want to come in, sit around the table and have a cup of tea, and that is sorely missed,” she said. “Just yesterday I met a man outside and he asked could he come in and sit down, and I felt so bad saying that he couldn’t. He used to love doing that, and then going to the pub for a glass of orange, but these things are gone now and that would break your heart.”
To combat the social isolation for the elderly, they’ve been working hard educating elderly to become more digital savvy and to learn the basics of Facetime and Zoom, which has been a big success with Zoom bingo in particular taking off.
The centre also distributed over 200 activity packs for the elderly in the community, that contained items like playing cards, a softball for exercise and a bio-diversity book, along with sending out over 400 activity packs for families in conjunction with the local schools.
Their work isn’t confined solely to the elderly either, in fact Mary says the centre has seen a particular rise in young peoples’ mental health difficulties.
“Mental health was the biggest thing that came out of surveys we did with young people,” she said. “And one thing we noticed was that they did not like to do Zoom support and show their faces, so we reverted back to the phone-call support.
“Now that the lockdown is opening up a bit, what we do is get them to drop by the community garden we have here in Ballinrobe on Wednesday and they can chat to the youth workers that are down there. That’s been very successful.
“We found that a lot of younger people were up in their rooms a lot and not coming down and engaging with people, so we’ve just been giving them tips about how to stay connected with your friends and take a break from the room.”
The centre’s meals on wheels service in the height of the pandemic in Ireland rose from 100 meals per week to 250, although the number is reducing again.
The pandemic has also great impacted the fundraising efforts of the centre, and Mary revealed the ‘difficult decision’ that they had to make in closing their afterschool service for the coming year.
While it’s a disappointing blow for the community, Mary says, she firmly believes the ‘shoulder to the wheel’ spirit in Ballinrobe will help the centre and the community thrive again.