Tanya Harris is head of services at Jami. She talks to Louisa Walters about reaching out to the community
Tanya Harris is a qualified occupational therapist and has spent her entire career working in mental health services. She worked in the NHS for 20 years managing occupational therapy services and an inpatient mental health unit. Over the years, she had referred people to Jami and when a position came up to work there, she saw it as an opportunity to broaden her experiences and look for new challenges.
Significantly, the head of services post allowed Tanya to develop mental health services for the Jewish community. “Faith and culture can play a big part in peoples’ lives,” she says. “If we consider the whole person in terms of mental health recovery, then we have to consider how to meet faith and cultural needs, too.”
Experiencing a mental health problem can be lonely, isolating and confusing. A faith-based service can help to ease these feelings. Jami offers a warm, welcoming environment, where people come together to celebrate Shabbat and the Chaggim. There is a common thread of tradition and familiarity, which helps people to engage.
“The Jewish community has responded to insufficient social care provision in the wider community through accepting the responsibility of looking after its own and supporting Jami,” says Tanya.
Jami’s main focus is on recovery, and all the services offered have this as their end goal. The charity believes that recovery from mental ill health is possible through giving people control over their lives by means of real choice and participation. The organisation aims to give people the resources and support necessary to lead the lives they want to live.
Services are run from four localities in London. Each locality runs its own programme that promotes mental health recovery and well-being. They offer befriending, employment and volunteering support, social work and occupational therapy, independent living support, peer support, hospital visiting and a carer service.
“One of the joys of this job is that there is no typical day,” says Tanya. “While I’m employed to develop and manage services, this role also allows me to work with the people who use our service. I might find myself dealing with a housing issue or negotiating a hospital admission for someone who is extremely unwell. I also meet with commissioners and other statutory organisations, telling them about the work Jami does and how much added value the organisation brings to people’s recovery.”
Tanya is a mental health first aid instructor, so she delivers some of Jami’s educational programmes.
Jami receives less than two per cent of its funding from the statutory sector and as pressure on the NHS continues, Jami finds itself working with people who may present as very unwell.
“Our job is to offer the best social care provision we can while continuing to liaise with GPs, psychiatrists and community mental health teams, to ensure people receive the help they need,” says Tanya. “We have built a solid relationship with local NHS services and we work in collaboration with them to provide support for people. Our hospital visiting team does a fantastic job promoting Jami on hospital wards and supporting Jewish patients.”
People with mental illness say the discrimination and stigma they experience makes their recovery harder as they are afraid to come forward to ask for help. The best way to challenge this is through education delivered by people who have experienced mental ill health.
Jami is very keen to reach out to the whole community and enable people to become expert in their own mental health recovery and self-care, while increasing the mental health literacy of the community.
“One in four of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, so it stands to reason that we all need to be better informed,” says Tanya. “We want to educate the community to recognise a mental health problem and know how to support someone who may be unwell.
“We also want to address peoples’ well-being, for example learning to recognise early signs of stress and dealing with them before it becomes worse. If you are really worried about someone’s mental health, then it’s always wise to encourage them to see their GP. Maybe offer to help them make the appointment or go with for moral support. Encourage them to contact Jami. Do one of Jami’s mental health first aid courses and learn how to recognise a mental health problem.”