Loneliness and Isolation report update

As it is Mental Health Awareness week we thought we would update everyone on our progress with the commitments that we made to the multiple sclerosis (MS) community in 2020 in our Loneliness and Isolation report. The commitments focused on peer support, mental health and raising awareness. 

Peer support

An online forum 

We said that we would develop a new online forum for the MS community.  

We have developed a national online peer support service which now has 11 peer pods that provide a positive and supportive space, where people can connect over a common interest.  

We also ran an awareness campaign all about different online forums available to the community. 

Local groups and activities 

The local face to face social group in Essex continues to operate independently of MS-UK and we now offer a wide range of activities for those in the MS community across the UK to stay active and connected through MS-UK Online. These include exercise classes, chair yoga, Pilates, information sessions and workshops, mindfulness and poetry courses. 

Raise awareness of loneliness and isolation in MS with social prescription services 

In 2021 we sponsored the National Association of Link Workers social prescription conference and hosted a virtual booth which gave us an opportunity to engage with this audience. We promoted our newly launched MS Awareness e-learning course and made new contacts.  

This year we will be sending our MS-UK services leaflet to social prescribing services and promoting the MS awareness online training that our helpline team are providing to employers and service providers. This training has already proven really successful, with over 350 front line staff within the Department of Work and Pensions attending in February this year. If you are interested in finding out more about this please email info@ms-uk.org.

Mental health

Counselling 

We continue to provide the only national counselling service across the UK to those with a diagnosis of MS. MS-UK Counselling is now provided by telephone or video call. We have also introduced Single Session Therapy which is a focussed one-off session with a counsellor to find a way forward with a specific issue. 

Due to the current high demand, we have increased the number of counsellors on our team recruiting additional staff and introducing qualified volunteers, who are all are fully trained in MS.  

Mindfulness 

We committed to offering Mindfulness to more people and we now provide eight week and four week online courses to the MS community across the UK. We provide introductory sessions to enable people to see if this is something that people may be interested in. Our experience is that those people who sign up to the courses create friendships with the other participants and meet up regularly online – some previous groups have even met up face to face! 

Signposting to other places for mental health support 

In October 2020 we consulted with the MS community about a range of different therapies that were available which we shared online. We have also hosted an information session on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and some of our counselling team are having training on this and looking at how they can incorporate this within our current counselling provision. 

Raising awareness

We committed to raise awareness of MS through campaigns on hidden symptoms and the importance of friendship and kindness. 

All of our campaign help to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis. Over the last two years we have participated in many campaigns including Loneliness Awareness Week, World MS Day, MS Awareness Week, Carers Week, World Mental Health Day and Mental Health Awareness Week and many more.  

The importance of kindness  

For World Kindness Day. MS-UK used this event to highlight the findings of our Loneliness and Isolation report (L&I) published earlier in 2020, with a specific focus on raising awareness of the value of kindness, the benefits of being connected and the importance of friendship. We also signposted people to the MS-UK Helpline for support. 

Connecting people 

MS-UK ran a week-long showcase to signpost people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) to online forums and support available nationally. The campaign utilised the expertise of the MS-UK Helpline team to raise awareness of what’s available for the MS community. 

Hidden symptoms 

Increasing the understand the hidden symptoms people living with MS experience is important and we did this with our campaign on International Day of People with Disabilities. The campaign highlighted hidden symptoms that others cannot see to help them understand what someone living with MS may be dealing with on day-to-day basis. 

Perfect pets 

One of the findings from our Loneliness and Isolation report was the role pets play in the lives of people living with MS. Many highlighted just how much companionship and support they provided, a cuddle with the cat or getting out for a walk with the dog could make all the difference. Many people told us that their pet stopped them feeling lonely and gave them purpose, ‘a reason to get up in the morning’ and some said they ‘simply could not do it without them’. 

How to identify and support people living with loneliness and isolation 

All of our staff have an increased awareness of loneliness and isolation following the publication of our report in 2020, however we are now in the early stages of developing an internal toolkit that will help both frontline staff and volunteers, and office-based staff. This will help them recognise the signs and give them pointers on how to engage with anyone affected by MS and support them to take positive action. Our MS-UK Helpline will have a big part to play in this by providing information and emotional support to those that need it the most. 

We know that the last two years have been even more challenging due the pandemic and some have found themselves feeling even more isolated and experiencing increased loneliness. I hope that through sharing this update with you, that you are assured that we are doing all we can to bring people together, improve mental health and raise awareness. If you need any further information about any of our services or require emotional support please do not hesitate to contact the MS-UK Helpline by calling Freephone 0800 783 0518 on Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm, emailing info@ms-uk.org or by going to www.ms-uk.org and using our Live Web Chat facility.  

Don’t forget MS-UK is here for anyone affected by MS, to empower them to live healthier and happier lives by improving the understanding of MS and providing support where it is needed the most.