Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: our pledge to take action in the fight for mental health support

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual week-long event providing an opportunity for the public to talk about all aspects of mental health, and start conversations about the things in our daily lives that can affect it. With mental health charities reporting that in any given week, one in six of us will experience a common mental health problem, while one in four will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year, there’s never been a more urgent moment to address our collective mental health and wellbeing.

At the Maya Centre, we’re renewing our commitment to providing a safe space for women on the margins who have experienced mental health issues, ensuring they have access to inclusive and accessible counselling that will set them on a path to recovery and resilience.

Awareness is a hugely important step in helping to facilitate discussions about mental health and increasing understanding of mental health conditions. Whether we’re sparking dialogue on social media and holding virtual fundraisers, or lobbying our policy-makers for properly funded mental health services, every action, no matter how big or small, helps move the conversation forward.

But awareness is just the starting point. It is action that really drives change. At the Maya Centre, that takes the form of talking and creative therapies.

Free counselling at the Maya Centre

The Maya Centre is a small community-based charity in Islington providing a free counselling service for women who have experienced mental health issues, trauma and gender-based violence, including domestic violence, physical abuse or childhood sexual abuse and harmful traditional practices.

It is a multi-ethnic women-only counselling service, managed and governed by a team of professional women. Their counsellors are all female, qualified and experienced, and are well-supported through supervision and professional development. Through one-to-one and group therapy sessions, they work with women whose mental health has been harmed by gender-based violence or abuse, trauma, neglect and deprivation; often complex, multi-layered experiences.

Our work is about enhancing emotional wellbeing and developing a healthier society, including increasing the functioning, resilience, connections and education of women at risk in our community.

A safe space

We provide a safe space for women to come to terms with what has happened to them, find their ‘voice’ and learn healthier ways to relate to themselves and others. As result, we enable women to break the cycle of abuse for themselves and their children, to become more resilient and develop the skills and confidence to have a better life.

The services we offer support women to alleviate their stress factors, which leads to them being better able to engage in community activities in Islington and surrounding boroughs and improve relationships with children and family. The women we support are more willing to both talk about and report abuse or recognise abuse is happening, therefore, reducing the likelihood of remaining or re-entering in abusive relationships.

A new direction

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we closed our central office to reduce social contact and transferred all of our one-to-one counselling services to the telephone or live video. The remote approach is offered by phone or on-line video-conferencing. By phone the Maya Centre use a VOIP (internet based) telephone service which service users can access via a landline or mobile. The Maya Centre use this service because it is secure and gives anonymity as staff do not need to share private numbers.

During this period, we are using our learning to develop our services in the following ways:

  • In the wake of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdowns, making the most flexible offer we can to women who may not be able to leave their homes – so that they will have the choice of face-to-face or remote therapy.
  • Recognising that for a significant minority of women, remote/online therapy may actually be preferable – e.g. for those who have mobility or childcare responsibilities, for those with language/social anxiety, or for those who  find face-to-face appointments/waiting rooms overwhelming as they encounter therapy for the first time.
  • Taking a community development approach to mental health, in which we actively seek out more isolated women who may benefit from an intercultural/psycho-education approach both face-to-face and online, and work with them to explore their own route into psychological support.
  • To keep reflecting on our own position vis-a-vis women’s mental health and wellbeing: what this means for self-identified women, for our service-users and staff and how we actively  consider inclusion and diversity as key facets to women’s resilience and voice.

Images: Getty