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Health hubs: ‘Everybody’s mental health is unique to them… there is no one way to fix everything’

Micro businesses in Ards Business Hub are providing help to those who need it


Helping hand: Terry Gorman, psychotherapist. Credit: Simon Graham

Helping hand: Terry Gorman, psychotherapist. Credit: Simon Graham

Health and fitness instructor Lauren Pinkney. Credit: Simon Graham

Health and fitness instructor Lauren Pinkney. Credit: Simon Graham

Terry Gorman from Talking Therapy NI (centre) and fitness instructor Lauren Pinkney (right), who are joined by Angela McAllister from Ards Business Hub (left). Credit: Simon Graham

Terry Gorman from Talking Therapy NI (centre) and fitness instructor Lauren Pinkney (right), who are joined by Angela McAllister from Ards Business Hub (left). Credit: Simon Graham


Helping hand: Terry Gorman, psychotherapist. Credit: Simon Graham

A number of new micro businesses helping people whose mental health has been affected by Covid-19 have recently moved into Ards Business Hub.

Among them is psychotherapist and counsellor, Terry Gorman from Talking Therapy NI, who recently held a free mental health session at the centre based at Sketrick House in Newtownards.

When asked who is especially at risk of adverse mental health issues post pandemic, Terry feels everyone is at risk.

“That’s part of the issue in that everyone of us can experience it at any time,” he says.

“There are several groups that I believe are potentially more at risk and that would be those who worked like trojans the whole way through the pandemic without taking a break; those who have been bereaved during the pandemic and who weren’t able to say their goodbyes or hold the hands of their loved ones as they passed away.”

Terry could see from the early days of the pandemic that referrals and enquiries were on the increase so wasn’t surprised the numbers looking for help.

He says demand has been so high he has had to refer people to other counsellors, but many of his colleagues are also reporting full appointment books and are unable to take on any more cases.

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“There was a palpable feeling of stress and anxiety with clients in relation to the changes and challenges the pandemic presented,” he says.

“Changes that none of us anticipated resulted in fear, sadness, loss and anxiety. People became disconnected and isolated, and this was a constant theme in the counselling room.

“Enquiries continue to rise with many people stating that they find their mental health has been severely impacted over the last two years.

“My professional body recommends we see no more than 20 people a week but I could easily see double that at the moment.

“This is clear indication of the state of mental health in Northern Ireland. Suicide rates are increasing, and the situation is now critical.

“The lockdowns had a massive impact on people’s mental health but equally the challenges of returning to the office and getting out again also present challenges.”

While things are better in terms of openly talking about mental health, it’s still an area we need to improve, says the psychotherapist.

“Unfortunately, I still have clients who come to me and are frightened that their employer will find out they are in therapy.

“Others report being told ‘give yourself a good shake’ or ‘it’s all in your head’ when they try to seek help.

“When this happens, people stop asking for help.

“We are getting better at recognising how the language we use around mental health can impact on those suffering,” he continues.

“But again, we have a long way to go. We no longer use derogatory terms when talking about physical conditions so why use terms like ‘breakdown’, ‘meltdown’ or ‘lost the plot’ when we talk about mental health.

“We need to be supportive and compassionate to those with poor mental health and be open to listening to them more.

“Everybody’s mental health is unique to them. There is no one way to fix everything and we need to adapt a flexible, dynamic approach to meet the needs of those suffering.”

When asked about practising what he preaches, Terry takes care of his own mental health by being aware of the signs that it is deteriorating.

“I take regular breaks from work and try to engage more in the things that make me smile. Walking the dog is therapy for me as well as spending time with family and friends as much as possible.

“Learn to say ‘no’ on occasions to those around you and replace it by saying ‘yes’ to yourself in terms of self-care.

“My one piece of advice would be listen to your body,” he says of recognising signs in ourselves or others.

“When mood changes, sleep takes a turn and we find we are more irritable than normal, chances are there’s something going on with our mental health.

“When we lose interest in the world around us and find that we are withdrawing from friends and family and from doing the things we do to make us happy chances are there’s something going on with our mental health.

“Take notice — then take action. Talking Therapy NI delivers a wide range of courses and workshops to support groups and individuals such as a recent one we held for companies in Ards Business Hub where we are based.”

Terry spent 25 years in the Ambulance service, working as a response paramedic. This has proved vital to his later move into counselling.

“I was well experienced in responding to all sorts of emergency calls. The skills and personality of a paramedic are such that we care about people and often at times when people don’t care about themselves.

“The skill of a therapist is to communicate to a client that we care that we listen, that we understand and that it’s good to talk. Sometimes that’s all a person needs.”

Another business to take up residency at Ards Business Hub is health and fitness instructor Lauren Pinkney, who offers a range of classes to improve physical and mental health including special sessions for mums with young babies.

She coaches people to improve their physical condition which in turn can lead to better mental health. She is specially trained in cardiac rehabilitation and pre- and post-natal health.

“We have always had a big focus on community and an inclusive environment pre-Covid. During and after the lockdowns, this has really blossomed,” says Lauren.

“We regularly organise activities outside of gym for clients and their families. Even when individuals aren’t feeling their best selves, they say the social interaction always lifts them and is what they miss most when they can’t attend sessions.

“The mums have really benefited from the exercise and bringing their babies along means they don’t have the added pressure or expense of trying to find childcare.”

She describes as physical and mental health as two sides of the same coin and stresses the importance of looking after them both.

“Not only has it been shown that physical exercise can improve your mood but there are some studies that also show that good mental health and stress reduction can also have an impact on your wellbeing,” she says.

“For example, people may eat more unhealthily or drink more if they are dealing with stress. Physical activity is part of that holistic picture.”

She believes the pandemic has reinforced the importance of health.

“I have always valued health over aesthetics, and I’ve noticed a real increase in that in our clients. People can feel intimidated by the gym and the way everyone looks but it’s more important to shift the attitude towards health and preventing disease and illness rather than always focusing on appearance.

“With the NHS being overwhelmed people now seem to be considering much more how they can help themselves and what they can do to keep well.”

For many, the pandemic has made it more difficult to get active, with worries over social distancing.

Now that things are relatively returning to normal, Lauren suggests those interested in becoming more active find an activity they enjoy in an area near you and in an environment in which they feel comfortable.

“All these factors will help keep you going. Even getting out for a walk is so beneficial and a great starting point,” she says.

“I hated PE in school but when I discovered the gym, I just fell in love with it and have never looked back.

“When someone is searching for a gym, they should look at reviews and not be afraid to ask loads of questions.

“Small independent studios and gyms are often overlooked but these can provide that really individualised experience that you may enjoy.

“Also, a great coach will cater activity for your current abilities so you can work at the right level and build a fitness programme that works.”

For more information on facilities and services offered at Ards Business Hub go to ardsbusiness.com

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