THE UK’s largest MS charity has launched new virtual support services to help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who are isolating at home in the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an MS Society survey of over 1,100 people living with MS, more than a quarter of respondents (26%) felt ‘scared’ about what COVID-19 could mean for them, and over a third (34%) said their mental health has suffered as a result of the crisis.
With vital face-to-face support groups forced to stop for the foreseeable future, the MS Society has developed new services online. These include Time to Chat – a service supporting virtual meetings for people with MS, and Keep in Touch – a regular check-in phone call designed to help those who might not see or have contact with anyone day-to-day.
Rachael Tomlinson, 53, from Yorkshire, lives with the primary progressive form of MS. Since lockdown started, Rachael has taken part in several Time to Chat sessions.
Rachael says: “I live on my own, so I’m really grateful these sessions exist. All I’d hoped for going into the first one was that it would take me away from everything going on around us at the moment, and it did. It’s a safe space where you can drop in for an hour and discuss all sorts in a group from all over the UK – we’ve talked about everything from pets to what we’re having for dinner! We share ideas and offer support, but coronavirus doesn’t overcrowd the conversation, and that’s really refreshing.
“I’m trying to attend as many as possible because it breaks my day up, and it helps to hear what others are going through, while sharing your own advice. They really have been invaluable to me – it’s so important to know you are not alone and get that support.”
Ed Holloway, Director of Services at the MS Society, said:
“This is a time of real uncertainty for everyone, but for those living with MS the stakes are even higher. Having MS is hard enough, and these figures tell us many people are now being challenged in a way that feels overwhelming.
“More than 130,000 people live with MS in the UK, and we’re doing everything we can to be here for them at this time. Calls to our free MS Helpline have increased significantly and, since we can no longer meet face-to-face, we’ve been rapidly creating new services – including telephone befriending and virtual meet ups – so people can stay in touch from home. We will do everything we can to be here for people affected by MS so they never have to feel alone. But we urgently need to expand our support so we can continue to be there for everyone in this difficult time.”
The Keep in Touch service gives anyone affected by MS, including carers and family members, the chance for regular weekly catch ups with a friendly voice. In addition the MS Society is hosting a series of weekly webinars with leading health professionals and academics, where people can ask questions and find out more about the current situation. Taking place online, up to 500 people are able to sign up and submit questions in advance.
For more information visit mssociety.org.uk/ms-never-alone. Anyone affected by MS who needs support can call the charity’s free MS helpline on 0808 800 8000.