Mental health – an ever-growing concern for Torbay

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

POOR mental health has long been an issue in Torbay. But in the last 18 months, because of COVID, things have got much worse.

We were already dealing with a high level of male suicide, depression caused by social isolation, loneliness and poverty. Add COVID to the mix along with its many complex consequences both for health and economic factors, and we are facing a mental health crisis.

The Torbay Community Helpline, which has a triage service for callers with issues, has dealt with more than 500 people reporting problems, and that figure is rising week by week.

Jane Eastwood, who is Helpline manager, mental health, said: “In the last 18 months, everything that we recognised as our ‘normal everyday life’ has been turned on its head. This has had a significant impact on us all or someone we know, in particular in relation to our mental and physical health and wellbeing.”

“What many people have reported is that some of the issues affecting them were already creating some degree of challenge; however, COVID and the lockdowns have created new challenges or significantly increased their difficulties and their ability to manage them. ”

“People felt they had become imprisoned in their homes too afraid to go out but fearing that they would never go out again or see family and friends. People cried at the thought of never hugging family members or holding their hands. People also lost jobs, financial security, faith, roles and responsibilities, friendships, loved ones and a sense of value or worth. Feelings of hopelessness and deep uncertainty surrounded many people.”

“The practical and emotional challenges of poverty, debt, homelessness, hunger, abuse, fear, isolation and loneliness have increased, and for many, these issues were contributing to their low mood and hopelessness.”

Jane breaks up the challenges that people have talked about most significantly into the following groupings.

Loss and bereavement – people reported not being able to say goodbye to those they loved in the ways they wanted to. “I wasn’t there to say goodbye” “hold her hand and offer reassurance and comfort” Not being able to have funerals or wakes in a way that celebrated the life of someone with friends and family has also for some left deep sadness, guilt, and regret.

Depression and anxiety– people who had never experienced anxiety or depression before have talked about these experiences over the last 18 months. Many people said, “I have always coped before” “I never thought I would be like this” The fear that was created by news reports, talking to others, social media and so on had and will continue to have an effect on confidence, mental health and wellbeing.

People describe feeling abandoned by Mental Health services, friends, family and other support networks. The strategies that supported Mental wellbeing and physical health, such as having a routine, meeting others, attending group meetings, pubs and cafes, walking or going to the gym, were not possible for long periods of time. People have reported using increased amounts of alcohol or drugs to cope with these feelings of loneliness and abandonment. The ongoing concern is that some people have reported that they don’t “really want to go out anymore”.

Suicide attempts/ thoughts of suicide increase in self-harming behaviours – some have reported an increase in thoughts of suicide or report feeling suicidal for the first time in their lives. This increase has been driven by financial insecurity, loss of jobs, homelessness or threat of homelessness, relationship breakdowns, increase in domestic abuse, fear of an uncertain future and fear of catching covid and dying. Self-harming has increased as a coping mechanism and as a way of self-managing. For some, it has been a combination of many factors rather than just one single event.

Jane sums up by saying: “The challenges for many to support, sustain and improve their mental health has been much more difficult during the last 18 months. Many report a deterioration in their mental and physical health and are asking for support to regain the confidence, skills to relearn or refresh ways to self-manage. People have also asked for ‘specialist befrienders’, a regular call to reduce the feelings of loneliness and abandonment and for counselling to support them to explore issues and move forward.”

If you need support or would like to support others by becoming a specialist befriender, call the Helpline on 01803 446022, or fill in the online form at bit.ly/torbayhelpline.