Pandemic has 'doubled demand' for mental health help, debate hears
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Mental health services have seen a two-fold increase in demand as people cope with the impact of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, an event heard.
Open Up, our virtual conference on the issue of mental health and wellbeing held on Friday, including a series of debates, workshops and real-life stories, heard that more people are seeking help while many services and support had online.
BBC Radio Norfolk Breakfast Show host Chris Goreham oversaw a live debate on the impact of the pandemic on mental health and what needs to happen next to support people affected during lockdown.
Dr Dan Dalton, chief medical officer from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), which normally sees 90,000 people a year, with 30,000 under the care and support of its services at any one time, said they had seen double the number of people seeking help.
“What we are dealing with at the moment is unprecedented in scale with the length of time people have been affected and what we have seen is both extraordinary resilience with communities pulling together, compassion and staying connected with each other, but also some people who have had a really tough time,” he said.
“We have seen people coming to see our specialist mental health services more than ever before, we have seen more people being poorly more than ever before, and some services seeing more than twice the number of people needing help.”
Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk, said the impact on employment, financial insecurity, reduced access to education and bereavement were all factors in increasing demands for help.
She said: “There is no doubt that lockdown has had negative impacts on a large number of people. What we are seeing is that it has exacerbated things where people were already struggling or were more vulnerable.”
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Dr Ardyn Ross, local GP and member of NHS Norfolk and Waveney CCG’s governing body, said services had seen “unprecedented numbers” of people coming through with mental health issues.
“Many who had already experienced difficulties before the pandemic have understandably become much worse due to the effects of loneliness and isolation and not having their usual community support networks,” she said.
“We have also seen new presentations of people experiencing anxiety and depression and struggling with everything that has been thrown at them.”
While GP practices have remained open throughout the pandemic, a string of new health services have been launched online with plans for more wellbeing hubs across Norfolk and Waveney, she said.
“If you do have a concern please contact your GP, the clinicians and primary care are there to support people.
“Don’t struggle. Don’t sit at home worrying, particularly if you are having thoughts about harming yourself, there is help out there,” she added.
Katy Hall, of mental health charity Mind, said moving services online had been a challenge but provision had got better with every lockdown including new community wellbeing service Rest Norwich.
She said: “It has been incredibly challenging but there have also been some positive things in being forced to work in a different way particularly for our counselling service.
“A lot of people were really uncertain about having counselling session via Zoom but actually people have discovered it works quite well for them.”
Dr Dalton said the restrictions of lockdown had sparked improvements in how services are delivered, including a new telephone hotline 0808 1963494.
“I’m very proud we have been able to do that and if you phone that number you will get to talk to a healthcare professional and that person won’t just put you in a queue or refer you to somewhere else, they will get you the support you need there and then,” he said.
Dr Smith said for some people lockdown had actually come with positive experiences and unexpected mental wellbeing benefits.
“For some people it has allowed more time to come together as a family,” she said. “We have seen really strong community cohesion and people volunteering and wanting to help each other.
“We are not having to spend so much time commuting and we are seeing more people being able to take more exercise.”