Supporting young people and women to make self-care their priority Rhiannon Gray – Lead Counsellor of Llamau’s counselling service It is hard to put into words just how challenging the last year has been for so many people. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all in different ways, but I’d imagine we all share a commonality in that we have experienced a shift in our mental health. With statutory mental health services already struggling under severe pressure and the pandemic bringing forth a heightened demand for support, Llamau recognised and prioritised the mental health needs of the young people and women we support early on. We knew how important it would be to ensure the right support was in place and available to people as soon as possible. With this in mind, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my colleagues to develop Llamau’s first in-house counselling service from an idea on paper to a fully functioning service. After identifying the need for this kind of service so long ago, we were so truly thankful to receive the funding we did to finally bring it to fruition. In the short time we’ve been up and running, we’ve already received more than 160 referrals for counselling support and 68 people have begun their counselling experience with us. Referrals are for a wide range of personal goals, such as support with anxiety, understanding and processing past trauma, difficulties with relationships, low mood and sleep problems. Although many people are not specifically talking about Covid related issues directly, such as fears of coming out of lockdown or feeling isolated, people are feeling the effects of not knowing what to do with themselves or struggling to reconnect with ‘normality’. These feelings and issues go hand in hand with the pandemic. In many cases, the young people and women Llamau support have a long history of complex needs and the topics we discuss through counselling are very serious and often very painful to talk about. During therapy can often be the first time they’ve ever disclosed their experiences or feelings. What we can do as a therapeutic team is try to help a person make sense of how they’ve come to where they are in life and how to understand and cope with their emotions. We also put a big emphasis on helping people to understand how normal the feelings they are having are. Our service offers a confidential reflective space that helps people to understand themselves better, whilst also supporting them to transition into a new way of managing, a changed routine or to develop healthy goals. We are already seeing improvements in the mental health and wellbeing of the young people and women who have undergone and are currently receiving counselling support, which is very reassuring. People often enter therapy feeling as if they are ‘stuck’, so to observe someone starting to become ‘unstuck’ is so rewarding. Our goal is to try to help people feel as in control of their mental health as possible, so that on those darker days when it is harder to gather their thoughts, they have the confidence and skills they need to understand and manage their feelings, ask for help and find a way through.