“Our courses give people with arthritis the opportunity to come together.”

02 December 2019
Northern Ireland local groups get together.

Ailish Cullen manages the delivery of Versus Arthritis services in Northern Ireland. Here she tells us about how self-management courses help people manage their arthritis.

People who’ve benefited from the courses themselves lead the programmes; they understand how people feel to live with pain.

Our course leaders know hand on heart what it’s like live with arthritis and this makes the programme more meaningful to people who come along.

Promoting self-management has shown to help improve quality of life by giving people more knowledge about their condition, drugs and treatments. On the course we look at the vicious cycle of pain, as you’re more likely to feel depressed and tense when you’re in pain for a long-time. As part of the programme we provide a toolbox of methods to help break the cycle, from relaxation techniques to getting better sleep.

“It can be isolating if you can’t do the same things anymore”

As part of the programme we look at how you can do things differently through action planning and goal setting. The group work together, if there are any barriers to achieving specific goals.

After the 6 weeks, we see a big difference and it’s helpful for people to find what tool works for them.

Some can find talking about their condition difficult. To be with others in a similar situation helps to boost confidence and encourages honest conversations with healthcare professionals, family and friends.

People can be in tears in the first few weeks as they are talking about their pain for the first time. The group becomes very supportive and friendships are forged.

“We get a mix of age groups and living with pain is a common thread”

The groups are informal, and the younger people get on with older people. The programmes are run mostly in local community centres and we’re now trialling at them in GP centres.  

We cover medication management on the programme to help people understand what they are taking and why. We’re all responsible for our health and not everyone understands the drugs they are on. That’s ok and it’s ok to ask your pharmacist and GP for other options or more information.

Our courses are about empowerment and helping people feel more in control.

Having completed ‘living well with chronic pain’ 6-week programme I have found my motivation has increased. I have been given support and instruction on self-acceptance, covering physical management of the condition. I cannot recommend the course strongly enough.

Michelle via Facebook

“The programme has been running for over 10 years and we are delivering more every year”

Self-management is written into the healthcare strategy in Northern Ireland to help people manage their condition from a practical and well-being perspective. It’s about improving quality of life.

We’ve seen how the programme has changed people’s lives. I remember a young mum with rheumatoid arthritis who got very upset and cried throughout the first week as she felt a failure as a parent.

She learnt techniques to help her communicate with her kids, pace herself and say to them if she needed to have a lie down to rest. To see how she was by the end was unbelievable. She felt she could be honest, and she didn’t have to deal with everything on her own.

“In the future, we want to do more for young people and families”

We want to develop something which fits with people’s lifestyle, work and has exercise elements too.

We’re working on developing better referral systems from healthcare professionals to our courses and with social workers.

It’s not just a bit of arthritis. We want to raise awareness and empower people so they can live their life in the best way for them.

Find out more

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