If ‘Lockdown, furlough and keyworker’ were Words Of The Year typifying 2020 according to Oxford Dictionaries, then ‘well-being’ and ‘wellness’ already feel like two early contenders for 2021. In a short space of time, these phrases have entered the public realm. With such rapidity their prevalence in our everyday conversations have now become normalised. With a focus on ensuring that people in general feel okay, the drive to create ‘well-being’ and ‘wellness’ is generating powerful social change. Work places, schools, healthcare providers and individuals are operating on a new level of awareness in terms of how we are being asked to relate to each other and think about ourselves emotionally.

The topic of mental health in the public realm has been on a rapid journey. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with Prince Harry launched The Heads Together campaign in 2017 it felt ground breaking and very personal. It didn’t take much when launching their campaign to end the stigma around mental health, to hear the Princes’ shared unspoken sense of loss. It was the subtext of their campaign in which we could all hear: ‘its okay not to be okay, because we’ve been there… through hard times’, knowing where this sentiment, for them, came from.

And now some four years on, the national conversation around mental health and finding personal ways to keep our emotions on track has picked up. Add in the pandemic, which has reduced our activities, and enforced extended periods of time in lockdown, our awareness of how we are feeling on a day to day basis is inescapable.

The toll of living as we have been is starting to show a lot more, as we draw down to the one year anniversary of the first lockdown. Home life for some of our families sadly is starting to feel unmanageable in a very real sense. Hard decisions for some are having to be made about whether or not they can carry on together as one unit or if it means seeing the family breakdown. In black and white that means considering seeing their child going into care if they can’t carry on anymore.

A year for a family with a son or daughter with complex disabilities and care needs living in lockdown with no social contact or extended family support thanks to social distancing is a long time. Recent coverage of the tragic murder of Dylan Freeman, a boy with complex disabilities in West London has been shocking and heart breaking. Whilst rare, the story of what happened to Dylan and his mum is one which resonates with respite providers like ourselves. We know how difficult life can be for the whole family in ‘normal times’, which is why we know the benefits short breaks can bring, stepping in to help alleviate the pressures of coping and caring for long periods.

Frontline keyworkers across the health and social care sector including our own brilliant staff here at Cherry Trees have had to traverse the more heightened feeling of risk for over a year when caring for others. And in general the collective feeling of both ‘being in it all together’, and then the see-saw emotions of individual loneliness, fatigue and anxiety can all be a bit much.

For these reasons, we at Cherry Trees are actively doing even more to offer support in a new way to our families, staff and volunteers. A mental health working group made up of 10 individuals spanning staff, Trustees, parents, a holistic therapist and the CEO has been set-up. We are actively reviewing our mental health support and are opening up conversations within Cherry Trees to encourage seeking support, this includes running a well-being questionnaire with the children, parents and staff. We support the ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ message and are crafting essential information to signpost people to, to help avert personal crisis and support ongoing resilience. A package of support to keep our heads, hearts and bodies healthy at this time will be rolled out this spring. The moment is now to introduce a calendar of well-being activities, motivational speakers from all sections of society and restorative nutrition. There is a lot of wisdom in the belief that in order to take care of others we actually have to take care of ourselves first, and that’s completely okay. More information will be on our Cherry Trees ‘Wellness’ pages in the coming weeks on our website: www.cherrytrees.org.uk

Banner image credit: AReid, Guildford Skyline.