Are we on the verge of a post-Covid mental health crisis?
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A rise in people seeking crisis help has prompted warnings that the full impact of Covid on mental health is yet to come.
The easing of lockdown measures and the end of the jobs furlough scheme could see further pressures on mental health services in Norfolk which warned earlier this year they had seen a two-fold increase in demand as people coped struggled with the impact of the pandemic.
The decision to lift restrictions on July 19 has led to a further rise in anxiety with the removal of the “comfort zone” of Covid measures.
NHS figures show that the number of people in contact with mental health services is the highest since the first lockdown.
Over the last few weeks there have been three major investigations launched by Norfolk Police with mental ill health thought to be a factor in them.
Meanwhile, it is feared that two further deaths over the weekend may also have been linked to mental ill health.
“We have seen a spike in people presenting to the specialist mental health services in crisis,” said Karen Lince, deputy clinical lead in Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust wellbeing service.
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“People have had a year or more of isolation and now have the uncertainty of what lies ahead. People are fatigued by the whole thing and, of course, people have preexisting mental health conditions in many cases and Covid has just made things a lot worse for a lot of people.”
Mental health problems have worsened across all age-groups in the past year.
In adults, the proportion of individuals showing symptoms of depression has almost doubled since the start of the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Former North Norfolk MP Sir Norman Lamb, who launched Norfolk Community Foundation, his mental health fund, months before the pandemic hit, said: “We know from every previous recession, which is what we also have as well as the pandemic, the kind of psychological fall out.
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“If you think about the risks that people face to their mental health, we have had isolation and loneliness, anxiety about losing employment, getting into difficulty with finances, people have been confined in tower blocks with children in highly stressed situations, and an increase in domestic violence.
“We are seeing the fall out from that now and it is likely to continue for some time and is likely to have an impact on a range of public services.”
Coronavirus has fuelled feelings of loneliness, anxiety and fears for the future for many people.
According to the ONS, people with depressive symptoms were more likely to feel that their finances and relationships with loved ones had been impacted by the virus.
Katy Hall, operation lead for recovery services at Norfolk & Waveney Mind, said among the areas to see more people seeking help was a big rise in referrals for complex bereavement with people not able to grieve in the normal way.
“I don’t think we’ve really seen the full impact of Covid yet,” she said.
“A lot of people have been furloughed until September or October and they might lose their job. I think the long-term effects are still to come.
“As we approach autumn and winter we are on tenterhooks waiting to see what happens with the pandemic so that we can continue to meet people’s needs in a variety of ways.
“This period has taught us that services need to be flexible to meet needs in many different ways. There is lots of help available for people, including our First Response service.”
Ms Lince said the NSFT Protect Now project was seeing GPs send out letters to newly diagnosed people prescribed antidepressant medication urging them to self refer to wellbeing treatments encouraging them to talk about their issues.
“The message we try to get out there is the importance of seeking help sooner rather than waiting until you are in crisis,” she said.
“Help is there for people before they reach that crisis point.It is different for each person, some need to reach out and talk, other people want more structured intervention.
“There are also non-clinical help including social recovery interventions, peer support workers and employment advisors.”
• If you are worried about your mental health you can now call the First Response 24-hour helpline on 0808 196 3494.