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One Parent Families Scotland’s new Mental Health and Wellbeing Service (MHWS) has evolved to complement the historical services that OPFS has offered single parents across Scotland which range from peer support groups focussing on parenting skills and employability, support with financial matters, advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable parents to the conducting of research which aims to dispel myths and stigma around the lives of single parents in our society.
Single parents’ mental health can fluctuate. Many single parents feel the impact of stressors such as financial hardship, food and fuel poverty - sacrifices which are made in order to provide for a child’s basic needs. The residue of traumatic relationship breakdown and other losses can continue to have an impact on family life for many years while societal perceptions and stigma can trigger feelings of guilt and shame which also play a huge part in the isolation that single parents tell OPFS impacts so deeply on their mental and emotional health.
It is impossible to construct one overarching narrative to understand the complexity of being a single parent and its impact on mental health. OPFS is committed to providing an integrated service which considers social, political, environmental and individual factors when working with distress and uncertainty.
In OPFS’s local services Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk, Dundee and North Lanarkshire full time support workers are employed to deliver the overall aim of the MHWS which is to ‘provide a free support and counselling service for those most in need’.
The MHWS will achieve this by:
OPFS’ counselling support worker vision is to provide a dedicated weekly counselling service available on a time limited basis for parents who wish to explore a therapeutic relationship with a counselling professional. Counsellors will be given training by parents to ensure that the lived experience of being a single parent is communicated.
Group support varies across the service from walking and gardening activity groups to psychoeducational groups which focus on topics suggested by parents such as coping with stress and worry, understanding anxiety and looking at body image. These are not therapy groups although they do offer a confidential and safe space to share experiences, learn from others and help reduce feelings of isolation. Feedback from parents shows us that these are valued, therapeutic and powerful.
“I feel it helps me a lot. It brings me out of my anxiety bubble, meeting and talking to new people. The groups give me something to look forward to instead of hiding in the house all the time. I like the one-to-one as it lets me air my feelings and plans. Very helpful and worth the anxiety that I soon get over” – Parent, Falkirk service.
As the MHWS matures it will recruit single mothers who have been actively engaged in support work to join the Parent Ambassador Programme. OPFS is keen to work closely with those who have lived experience of mental health issues and who are passionate about empowering other parents to seek help, talk about their difficulties, and through their own growth and understanding feel able to share some of their stories of healing.
“I like the fact that I am giving back, I have self- worth. The centre has helped me and now I am helping out there. It feels good, everyone is so welcoming and friendly” – Parent, Falkirk service.
Single parents have the deepest knowledge and understanding of their own experiences; OPFS wants to learn from them in order to provide the most relevant, useful and sustainable services possible.
Established in 1944, One Parent Families Scotland works exclusively with and for single parents. We support on average 5,000 one parent families each year who face significant challenges resulting from poverty, stigma, inequality and poor health.
Other articles published in our October 2019 newsletter
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Other articles about struggling families: