Posted by JF&CS

A CHAI Works participant painting at home.

Life during a pandemic is truly uncharted territory. This period of upheaval and uncertainly has taken a tremendous toll on mental health — causing widespread feelings of isolation, anxiety, and despair. At JF&CS, our programs have adapted to meet the current social-emotional needs of our clients while helping them build skills of resilience and strategies for persevering during these difficult days.

Creating a Community for New Mothers

While being a new mother is never easy, parenting in the era of social distancing can feel incredibly lonely. The JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support® (CERS) is helping to mitigate these feelings through Zoom support groups and free consultations for parents. “JF&CS is a supportive presence,” said Peggy Kaufman, the Director of CERS. “We let new moms know that they’re not alone, we listen to their concerns, and we’re providing a connection that’s difficult for them to have while social distancing.”

Our free weekly support groups for new parents have seen record attendance, with participants Zooming in from around the Greater Boston area and, in some cases, from around the country. The Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Support Group has tripled in size since mid-March. CERS has also introduced new support groups for single parents and parents of toddlers and is developing a group for pregnant women. “Whatever challenges new parents are facing, we are here for them,” said Peggy.

Providing Direction and Purpose for People with Disabilities

For individuals with disabilities, the pandemic has brought stress of the unknown. Many of our clients thrive in highly structured environments, and their mental health has been affected by the disruption of their daily routine.

When the outbreak began, our CHAI Services programs for people with disabilities pivoted to provide engaging online activities, support, and structure to our clients. “We have moved many of our programs over to Zoom and YouTube to create a sense of normalcy for our clients,” said Sara Freedman, the Director of CHAI Services. “Even though they can’t participate in their usual routine, we’re giving them resources to help create a new routine from their homes with some familiar faces and activities.”

Our CHAI Works day program for adults with disabilities has been offering 5 hours of virtual programming a day for over 90 participants. The Department of Developmental Services, the state agency that funds CHAI Works, praised our virtual programming as some of the best and most comprehensive they have seen. Incorporating educational classes and fun activities like martial arts and art projects, our programming is designed to keep our participants intellectually stimulated and connected with their friends.

In addition to group programming, CHAI Works is also providing weekly 1:1 sessions for participants and their families to check in with our staff. The mother of one of our participants told us that the online programming and weekly check-ins have helped her daughter remain in good spirits while at home: “She has purpose, she has direction, and she is getting exercise. She is painting up a storm and is happy most of the time.”

Keeping Older Adults Connected

Older people, particularly those with compromised health, are at the highest risk for COVID-19. Due to concerns about the spread of the virus, many older adults can’t leave their homes, can’t have visitors, and are feeling extremely isolated. “The crisis has created a heightened sense of fear and anxiety for older adults, and this is intensified by being cut off from family and friends,” said Kathy Burnes, the Director of Services for Older Adults at JF&CS.

To combat isolation and ensure that we are identifying needs as they arise, JF&CS is doubling up on reaching out to our older clients by phone, mail, and video platforms. Not only are case managers making sure that clients have essentials like food, medicine, housing, and home care, but they are also offering reassurance and links to online and telephone engagement activities. Our case managers are helping people connect to needed telehealth services, supporting adult children and their parents around end-of-life planning, and serving as guardians for people in nursing homes. As people confront all kinds of changes and transitions, JF&CS is responding with assistance around coping with loss. We have also expanded our caregiver and bereavement support groups, which are being held on Zoom.

“These changing and difficult times have cast a spotlight on older adults in ways that have made the risks they face painfully clear,” said Kathy. “Our commitment is to do all we can to help foster resilience and interdependence.”

Learn more about the Mental Health Support available through JF&CS.