Contributed by Brayden Ransom, MHC’s Communication and Marketing Assistant
When Mental Health Connecticut (MHC) shifted to in-person activities due to COVID-19, we came together to overcome the obstacle as our programs went from almost 99% in person to almost 77% virtual. Immediately, our staff began to brainstorm ways we could keep people connected and continue to support our community during this trying time. For MHC, this meant more than simply shifting our programs to online. A key point MHC’s success is our ability to build an in-person connection and a sense of community. This allowed our participants to share incredibly personal hardships with each other and encouraged them to stay on the path to recovery and wellness.
For MHC’s wellness programs, which include Write On!, Mending Art, Moving Stories, we asked ourselves how could these programs –so contingent on in-person engagement– be reimagined to fit into the virtual world? It has remained important to us that we work to preserve the integrity of these programs as much as possible. Our staff embraced the opportunity to get a little creative with how we’re “getting creative,” and we’ve actually been able to expand these programs.
Write On! is a nine-week workshop for young adults (ages 18 to 29) who are living with, or have experienced, a mental health condition and are in recovery. For our participants, Write On! is more than simply a writing workshop. Each participant finds a supportive and welcoming community where they build real skills which they take with them long after the duration of the program. Preliminary data collected by the program in 2016 and 2017, in partnership with the University of Hartford’s Center for Social Research, suggested that participants in the program were able to better manage their emotions, were more willing to seek support and receive feedback when they needed it, and overall were more confident and comfortable with themselves. To read more from that study click on this link: https://www.mhconn.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Write_On_FINAL_Report_Jan2020.pdf
As we know, when COVID hit isolation became a part of safeguarding, and MHC recognized the dire need to protect the sense of community and support that our participants gained through their involvement in our programs. Quickly, we were able to pivot the Write On! program to accommodate for virtual learning, and we expanded the program within MHC to increase access to program participants living in MHC’s residential programs across the state. MHC also offers custom Write On! webinars and workshops. To watch the workshop MHC created for Mental Health America (over 600 participants attended), click on this link: “Writing Through Lived Experience: Writing to Support Your Mental Health Journey”.
We didn’t stop there, we have also created a new, online course called “Discovering Your Inner Writer.” The course is 6 videos and is designed for mental health professionals and educators to learn how to build a writing practice of their own, and how to gain its healing benefits for their own wellbeing and for others.
Another wellness program our staff worked to adapt is our Mending Art program. Mending Art is one of a variety of programs that helps our participants learn new skills, engage in the community, and utilize creative outlets of expression. It has also been made available to all program participants in our residential programs across the state and reached hundreds more in the community. Despite not being able to do an in-person exhibit in October, we were able to move everything to online, and this program remains as significant as ever. Amy Smith, MHC’s Mending Art coordinator worked with her team to host classes over the phone and she even did a workshop open to the public. View that Mending Art workshop on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVwNQzkT-mc&feature=youtu.be
Our staff’s adherence to the integrity of our wellness programs has been what’s kept up our momentum to reconstruct and reimagine them. Moving Stories, an artistic workshop presented by MHC in partnership with the award-winning Judy Dworin Performance Project (JDPP), is designed to improve the mental health of individuals who have experienced trauma and/or a mental health condition. Through evidence-based approaches that use a combination of physical and spatial expression and visual arts, Moving Stories helps individuals develop an improved sense of wellbeing, connection to others, and a more grounded stance to face everyday life.
Thanks to the support from Connecticut Community Foundation (CCF) we were able to shift the timing and format of our Moving Stories workshop from in person in 2020 to virtual in 2021. With their generosity, we are proud to offer our first Moving Stories workshop available to residents (ages 18 or older) of Greater Waterbury. To learn more and apply for our upcoming Moving Stories workshop, visit www.mhconn.org/move
We worked to change how we did things but we never changed why we’re doing it, we are always looking out for the wellbeing of the members in our community. Preserving the integrity of these programs has been contingent on the tenacity and commitment of our staff and program participants. Thanks to them, we were able to push barriers and to provide support and services when our community needed it most.
Applications are now being accepted for the spring 2021 Write On! classes. To apply for this class, visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WriteOnSpring2021 by the deadline of February 25, 2021.
To listen to stories from Write On! alumni, find the “Telling Tales” podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Anchor, Google, Breaker, Pocket Casts, and RadioPublic. For a visual representation of these stories, visit www.mhconn.org/telling-tales (each story is animated with transcription).
To sign up for our upcoming Mending Art Community Webinar, visit https://mhconn.networkforgood.com/events/25689-mending-art-community-webinar.
Applications are now open for the 2021 Moving Stories workshop which will take place virtually (via Zoom) from April 21 – June 23, 2021. Classes will take place on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Class size is limited to 15 adults. No formal movement training is required. To apply, click the below button or visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FXDKYGF. Deadline to apply is April 12, 2021.