Safe Haven Cafe provides virtual mental health support during lockdown

Safe Haven Café operating virtually

The Safe Haven Café operating virtually

Tuesday 01 September 2020

The St Vincent’s Safe Haven Cafe is a therapeutic space for people seeking support and is now delivering its services virtually.

With stage 4 restrictions in place across metropolitan Melbourne due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, the cafe hub – which is located in the art gallery at St Vincent’s public hospital – is not presently open to visitors.

Recognising the increased importance this service plays, especially in a time of high stress and uncertainly brought about by the current health crisis, St Vincent’s Mental Health has partnered with the hospital’s telehealth team to make sure customers still receive the support they need, remotely.

“We deal with a lot of people who are socially isolated at the best of times, and being in lockdown would isolate them even further and deprive them of perhaps the only contact they have,” says Fran Timmins, Director of Nursing at St Vincent’s Mental Health.

Support at hand

Usually the service operates as an after-hours hub that is staffed by a clinician, peer support workers and volunteers with a lived experience.

Ms Timmins says the cafe has been operating on weekends since 2018 and normally sees between 25 and 35 clients each week. The new virtual set-up, which was launched in July allows the team to continue being there during a period that will be testing mental resilience for a lot of people.

“They come to us to have some social connection, to talk about the things they are struggling with at that particular time – and we give them our attention, our time and help them find what they need to get through the moment” Ms Timmins says.

Change of scene

Over the last couple of years the team has built a strong rapport with regular clients, which made it easier for the support workers to quickly establish contact and get the virtual space up and running.

Some of the cafe’s more vulnerable clients will be provided with mobile phones as part of the new remote service to ensure they can readily reach out for help when they need it.

Ms Timmins says in the first weekend the team’s peer support group helped various individuals develop self-management skills to maintain their own sense of wellbeing – something they will continue doing virtually while stay-at-home measures are being enforced.

“The feedback that we have received so far is that people are grateful for any kind of contact they can get during the lockdown” she says.