How we’ve been helping the Irish in Britain during lockdown
Icap therapists have been working with 200 clients each week by telephone and Zoom
For many Icap clients, anxieties about contracting the virus are amplified by age, existing health conditions or both. Photograph: iStock/Getty
Describing wartime London, Elizabeth Bowen wrote of bomb ravaged streets as “islands of exalted if stricken silence”. As we live through the most significant health crisis for generations, Bowen’s words evoke both the eerie stillness of lockdown in the city of London, and the quiet and often solitary despair of those struggling during the pandemic.
In addition to the increased rates of stress and anxiety already experienced by so many, the World Health Organisation anticipates rising rates of depression, loneliness, drug and alcohol use, and self-harming and suicidal behaviours.
For those whose early experiences of home are accompanied by memories of pain, isolation and loneliness, the realities of lockdown have been especially distressing
Icap, or Immigrant Counselling and Psychotherapy, offers counselling and psychotherapy for the Irish community in Britain. We have centres in London and Birmingham. Since lockdown, our therapists have been working with up to 200 clients each week by telephone and Zoom. For those we support, Covid-19 has brought a complex mix of new challenges, including increased worries about work and money, social isolation and concerns for loved ones, including family in Ireland.
For many, anxieties about contracting the virus are amplified by age or pre-existing health conditions, or both. As we are confined to our individual islands, many of the most vulnerable in our community are deprived of the comfort of social contact. For those whose early experiences of home are accompanied by memories of pain, isolation and loneliness, the realities of lockdown have been especially distressing.
Along with those currently using our services, many in the wider Irish community in Britain are also battling with the myriad consequences of this pandemic. Families have lost relatives to Covid-19, and the absence of our traditional mourning rituals has complicated the grieving process. Like many agency members of the Irish in Britain coalition, we have seen a spike in demand for our services. At times of crisis it seems more important than ever that people can access services which understand the nuances of culture and the importance of the customs and rituals which can help us to find our way through these extraordinary times.
There has been a flowering of partnerships and volunteer initiatives to help ensure that people receive the support that they need. Thanks to generous support from the Covid-19 Response Fund for Irish Communities Abroad from the Department of Foreign Affairs, we have established a free confidential helpline open to all of the Irish community. In the UK this telephone support line, staffed by therapists, can be contacted on 020-72727906 on weekdays. Callers only need to give a name and telephone number, and no details are kept on record; our therapists will also ring callers back, to help minimise their telephone bills.
A woman in her 80s told us she was offering up her distress for the holy souls in purgatory. The person she spoke to understood both the reference and her desire to find some meaning in the suffering she saw around her
Now, as lockdown eases and we begin a cautious re-entry to the world, we are facing new challenges. There is the worry of a second wave, or the impact of the coming recession. We are needing to call on our resilience and to use all the resources at our disposal.
A woman in her 80s called the helpline last week to share her distress, before telling us that she was offering it all up for the holy souls in purgatory. The person she spoke to understood both the reference and her desire to find some meaning in the suffering she saw around her. A new migrant admitted tearfully that he cannot be home alone, and so walks the streets for hours each day to ease the loneliness and claustrophobia.
We are all in a sense “displaced” by this pandemic, finding our way through unfamiliar territory. These are difficult days for us all. We urge those in need of support to contact us.
Catherine Hennesy is chief executive of Immigrant Counselling and Psychotherapy