The Lothian Zoom Room: moving self-help groups online

25th June 2020

In this guest blog, Michelle Howieson, a Group Facilitator with Lothian Bipolar Self-help Group, shares her experiences of moving peer support online.

The Lothian Bipolar Self-help Group has been meeting at least once a month for the last ten years. It has been a life line to many people particularly during difficult times. The meetings offer people a safe comfortable confidential space to chat about personal experiences and challenges without the fear of being judged.

The meetings also provide the opportunity for people to learn ways of managing their bipolar both by listening to professionals, talking about self-management topics and sharing experiences of coping with the huge variety of symptoms that can come with bipolar.

COVID-19 has had a hugely negative impact on everyone’s lives particularly those already struggling with mental ill health. Bipolar Scotland acted quickly to provide ongoing support for their members and have moved their support groups online. Being able to speak to peers ‘face to face’ has most definitely helped many members of the group including myself.

Thankfully one of our group facilitators has excellent technical skills and moved our meetings on to Zoom shortly after lockdown. As a result, the Lothian Zoom Room was set up in time for our 18-30 Young Adults Group at the end of March. We have also been able to go ahead with all our monthly meetings since then.

The meetings have featured talks from the speakers who had confirmed before lockdown and also smaller group discussions where we used the breakout rooms on Zoom. Both worked really well. We’ve also managed to host several quiz nights and afternoon chats focusing on wellbeing which have been well attended and good fun too.

Understandably health services are thin on the ground just now and a lot more people have been in touch asking for support so that has been particularly challenging at times. I had to take a step back from volunteering just recently to focus on my personal wellbeing with all the added stresses involved with lockdown.

Thankfully being able to have a complete rest with support from my family and the other group facilitators really helped me and I’m getting back on track with my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). It does highlight the importance of regular support and supervision from others when you’re working in a role that involves giving emotional support.

Volunteering as a peer group facilitator plays a large role in my wellbeing plan and it both motivates and inspires me to keep myself well.  As someone who lives alone and is currently shielding it’s been the one constant in my life that’s keeping me going.

– Michelle