Four sight loss charities (Vision & Hearing Support, Newcastle Vision Support, Vision Northumberland, Sunderland and County Durham Royal Society for the Blind) have formed a partnership to provide a counselling service project.
This partnership, funded by the North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Suicide Prevention Network, provides a professional, lived experience led counselling service for blind and partially sighted people across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. The service aims to improve mental health and wellbeing, reduce suicidal thoughts, self-neglect and ultimately suicide. Our person-centred counselling helps individuals rebuild lost confidence, feel empowered and regain their independence.
The project promotes confidence and enables people to access wider services particularly those suffering clinical depression, anxiety and low mood. We help facilitate engagement with additional services provided by the partners as well as external support for specific suicidal thoughts and repeat self-harm and neglect. Alongside the one-to-one support, group sessions are provided as a steppingstone from individual support to leaving the service. We have developed referral pathways into community-based wellbeing groups as a transition out of the traditional counselling service.
The project is underpinned by independent research and evaluation by Sunderland University to demonstrate the impact of specialist VI counselling. The project will systematically capture and review a range of data to evidence the impact that lived experience leadership brings.
Since March 2022, 53 clients have attended counselling sessions across the partnership and have received an average of 3.81 sessions (range 1-17). Overall, scores on the PHQ9 and GAD7 have shown positive improvements, with an average reduction in scores of 4.15 on the PHQ9 and 4.35 and GAD7 (above the minimally important clinical difference of 3 for the PHQ9 (Lynch et al., 2021) and 4 for the GAD7 (Toussaint et al., 2020)).
Clients sought counselling for a range of topics, including financial anxiety, fear for the future, relationship challenges, frustration about their sight loss, feelings of disempowerment, and suicidal thoughts. As a result of the sessions, clients have been referred to supportive services (e.g., assistive technology, financial advice, befriending/companionship) and provided with strategies to manage negative intrusive thoughts and navigate relationship challenges. Clients report feeling hope for the future after attending counselling, where previously they felt a sense of hopelessness.
The next steps for the project are to expand support for friends, families and carers. We will establish peer support groups to raise awareness of different eye conditions and the impact of sight loss on daily life alongside sharing coping strategies, relaxation techniques and practical support. The course will include suicide and self-harm awareness to help people identify the signs and information about where to get help.