What a year it has been so far Juanita is a WLZ Link Worker at a Primary School in White City. She is also a trained counsellor and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), and spends one day a week providing specialist therapeutic support at another school in Hammersmith & Fulham. Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, she reflects on the year we’ve had. What a year it has been so far. On top of all our own day-to-day worries and coping strategies, we have found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic which has affected us all in different ways. I’m normally based in school, working and seeing young people face-to-face everyday, but lockdown suddenly saw me out of school and at home. I went from being at school with the children I work with in a room full of toys, art and materials to brief phone conversations with them whilst at home. I had to be more flexible about how I would engage with these children and adapt to this new way of counselling - this was not something that was covered in my training several years ago! For some of the children I work with, openly expressing thoughts and feelings verbally has always been a bit challenging. They found a lot of comfort in expressing themselves through play or art. So it was difficult for some of them to be at home, especially for those in very small living spaces, with family members within close proximity, and knowing they’d have only words to share how they were feeling. It is known that the repression of strong emotions affects cortisol levels, which increases stress levels and this in turn has an impact on behaviour. And, in the case of the children I work with, it can affect their learning too. As they were not returning to school for the remainder of the academic year, it was imperative that I was able to provide parents with the right resources to support the wellbeing of each child at home. I provided children with online tools too including downloadable well-being packs to help them manage their own thoughts and feelings, as well as encouraging them to journal. Towards the end of June, I knew it was important that I was able to provide them with a positive ending experience. For me, this was the most challenging part - but together we made it possible with a socially distanced meeting at school, a goodbye letter and a package containing all the things the children had made, drawn and collected since starting in counselling in September posted to them. "I’m sure, one day we'll look back and wonder how we ever got through this! What I do know, for now, is looking after your body and your mind is key. Nurturing your mental, emotional, and physical health. There is no need to put on a brave face and deal with things alone – remember to reach out and talk!" This was such a different way of working for me. A completely new experience. In the midst of it all, I had to make sure that my own wellbeing and mental health was being looked after too. My self care routine involved going for walks by the canal and getting involved with some Zoom meditation, but also seeking help from my supervisor. I also found myself doing lots of baking and cooking! I will be returning to school this month, face to face! However, it is not going to be as straightforward as previous years – there will be lots of changes and adaptations to get used to. I’m sure, one day we'll look back and wonder how we ever got through this! What I do know, for now, is looking after your body and your mind is key. Nurturing your mental, emotional, and physical health. There is no need to put on a brave face and deal with things alone – remember to reach out and talk! Seek professional help or have a chat with someone you trust. West London Zone works with a number of therapeutic partners across our schools, including Place2Be, West London Action for Children, and a new partnership with Unlocking Potential in Brent starting in November.