Mental health – the next big challenge for Coronavirus community helpline

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

ANOTHER week in lockdown, with light showing at the end of the tunnel for some, but for others, no change.

Calls to the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline continue to come in thick and fast, though not as many as we experienced at the beginning of the crisis, and the nature of the calls is changing.

With each week that passes, people are reacting differently to the crisis depending on their own circumstances and their personal reaction to the unfolding uncertainty that continues to face us all.

Initially, we dealt with hundreds and hundreds of emergencies where people that had been unable to prepare for lockdown found themselves running out of food and life-saving medications.

Our rapid response team was out all day every day joining endless queues at pharmacies for prescriptions and at supermarkets stripped by stockpiling, but the calls on the helpline were efficiently brief, mostly containing plaintive cries for practical help.

And as the days stretched into weeks and the weeks became months, the calls fell into a rhythm of predictability with the main areas of concern being money, food, medications, and loneliness.

They also have, the longer the lockdown has lasted, become longer as people reach out not just for the necessities but for the company and reassurance the sound of a human voice, albeit one at the end of a phone can bring.

Inevitably across the Bay, there are people, particularly among the shielded who have not seen another person for more than two months or heard a fellow human’s voice other than through the radio or television.

For them, the loneliness and isolation has become the norm, and we have been working on contacting the most vulnerable to offer them the comfort of a regular call for as long as is necessary.

For the more complex cases we have developed a new script for the Helpline team handling the calls which helps them recognise those that need a little more than a befriending call because their mental health is deteriorating.

We have developed a triage service that seeks to catch those going into a spiral and to provide the support that they need, when they need it, albeit in ways other than the traditional face to face.

Recently, most people now calling either 1803 446022 or 01803 857727 between, no matter what they ask for, have one underlying need – to have a chat.

Many just want someone else to know that they are, that their changed circumstances are no different to anyone else’s. They may not be able to see their neighbours, their friends, their families, but they are not alone.

Across the Bay, we know that there are people who just want to talk, to hear a voice to be reassured. We are, in the main, social beings and loneliness and isolation does not suit us.

Throughout the lockdown, our community builders have been ringing people that we have come across during our work with Ageing Well Torbay over the last five years. That work has allowed us to know more about vulnerable older people and loneliness and isolation, than most.

For all the reasons outlined above, the calls have not been short, and people have loved the opportunity to discuss their predicaments and to find out how others are coping.

As a result, some of them have become telephone befrienders themselves recognising their own needs in others and rising to the challenge within their own communities.

They recognise in themselves and in others that they are struggling to maintain social connections and that some are bored of their own company 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They also accept the anxiety of the realisation that this is not going to change anytime soon as the most vulnerable in our society have no immediate prospect of the lockdown being lifted.

As others drift back to work and school and life begins to open up for the majority, there are thousands for whom their four walls will remain their unbending boundary for the foreseeable future.

We also recognise that some of our younger and able-bodied volunteers will be going back to work over the next few weeks and we will need more volunteers to step into their shoes.

The Prime Minister’s address last weekend was to some good news, to others bad news and for thousands more, no news at all and it is people in the second and third groups that we will continue to help wherever we can.