Neglected: Mental health during coronavirus

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Ahnaf Akeef and Clarissa Leung examine the decline in mental health: a serious, though overlooked symptom of these challenging times.

Suicidal thoughts among adults in the UK have increased from 8% to 10% over the past few months, with young adults (18-29 years) showing the highest increase, a study led by the University of Glasgow reveals. 

Chair in Health Psychology at the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing Professor Rory O’Connor called this a “creeping rise over a very short period of time”, which is something of a paradox and more than a cause for concern for the country.

A survey carried out by Healthwatch Bradford and District corroborates the above findings. There is a “sense of anxiety and fear was palpable” among respondents. 

One person said, “I’m still coming to terms with the death of my wife…the present situation has brought home how lonely I can feel at times.” 

Another said, “I went off with work stress then it became lockdown. I had my medication increased only because I became suicidal, and crisis team came out. After that, I had nothing at all and had to help myself; it was awful.”

The Centre for Mental Health in England has predicted that at least 10 million – that is almost one-sixth of the population – will need mental health support, directly resulting from the pandemic, and 1.5 million of those to be affected are youths under 18.

Marginalized groups are facing even greater difficulties, especially disabled and/or mentally ill people. People who have difficulty speaking, or have hearing loss, find communication with others such as using the telephone, extremely inaccessible and unviable for them while some others are unable to use the computer or electronic devices to access online information.

From the Bradford survey, it’s been revealed that a lot of people with pre-existing mental conditions have had their treatment and counselling sessions cancelled without any follow-up or information as to when they would be resumed. The pandemic, at the very least, causes confusion; at worst: panic, relapses, deterioration of wellbeing or even the most catastrophic repercussions – suicidal thoughts.

Have we been prioritising physical health and containing the virus at the expanse of neglecting the prevalent problem of mental illnesses in this country? The answer is yes, and for too long, it has gone unnoticed. 

The present lockdown has “[triggered] spikes in suicide, self-harm, alcoholism and domestic abuse”, concluded 42 mental health experts in an open letter to the Government. 

“The lockdown is supposed to prevent deaths from Covid. But it’s also certain to cause further deaths, not only from other physical diseases like cancer but from alcoholism, addiction and suicide – which have already been soaring this year. It will also lead to intense loneliness and depression and in older people, these are killers, closely linked to poor physical health. Ironically, this will make them all the more vulnerable to Covid.” says consultant psychologist Dr Keri Nixon, an expert in trauma and domestic abuse.

And he’s not wrong. Mental health is not and should not be an afterthought. Mental illnesses are killing people, just like Covid-19. Containing the coronavirus should not be prioritised at the expense of our mental health; it will only weaken our physical wellbeing and exacerbate the bodily deterioration of those already infected with the virus.

Using our resources to develop vaccines and emphasising the importance of social distancing are valid. Still, we should also keep the very real struggles of mentally ill folks – who are more affected than ever – in mind.

fects people regardless of class, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background.”

In October, the minister for mental health Nadine Dorries announced in the Commons that the government would pledge “an extra £2.3 billion of funding into mental health services”, but the funding still falls short of the £2.6 billion required by the NHS’ five-year plan on national mental health prior the pandemic.

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(Credit: Forbes)

As hospital wards begin to fill again with inevitable waves of coronavirus washing over Britain, mental health patients will undoubtedly suffer. The head of health policy and influencing at the mental health charity Mind would like to remind us that 2,500 mentally ill patients were discharged in March this year to free up ward space for Covid cases.

It would benefit all groups of people – people who suffer from autoimmune disease, disabled and/or mentally ill people, frontline NHS and care workers – to issue care packages to vulnerable groups of mentally ill patients. So their mental wellbeing would not deteriorate and affect their physical health, which would only put everyone at risk and put more pressure on the NHS. It could be a national hotline available 24/7, follow-up support like specialist assessments and referrals, and intervention and treatment.

Healthwatch suggests that the government should be as accommodating as possible with their communications to reflect the diversity and communication needs of British citizens, especially when it comes to information about mental health services on a regional and/or local level.

“We currently face the most significant challenges in health and social care for a generation. Although we acknowledge that some of the concerns reported to us are likely to stem from communication issues on national guidelines, our report shows that there are clear lessons to be learned at a local level,” Healthwatch Bradford and District Manager Helen Rushworth says.

In the meantime, we could also be checking in on our friends and family, and reaching out for help ourselves if we are not feeling too well mentally.

This might sound obvious, but please consult an NHS Mental Health Worker at the clinic or hospital that you’re registered at. They are NOT therapists or counsellors. But, they are aware of all the resources available to you and can give you clear and definite pointers on which avenues might be the best fit for your specific issue. In addition to providing loads of self-help resources (more on that in the Self-Help section below), they can tell you all the places you can avail free or paid therapy sessions. 

Big White Wall offers online live therapy sessions free of charge when referred by your GP. Leeds IAPT offers one-to-one therapy sessions. Visit their website to fill out the self-referral online assessment form, and they will eventually contact you to set up an appointment.

However, the wait periods can be excruciatingly long with these organisations.

For those who can afford it but are unaware of it, there are private practitioners who offer counselling and therapy sessions in Leeds starting from £40 a session. You usually see them 2-4 times a month, depending on a variety of factors.

They offer an extensive list of therapists and access to details about therapists to evaluate compatibility. You would have the freedom to choose a therapist specialised in your specific issue and flexibility in terms of scheduling, duration, and frequency of appointments. Best of it all? Little to no waiting time. The catch is… you have to pay for it. 

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy gives you access to a whole database of therapists all across the UK. Their website alone should suffice as a comprehensive list of therapists available to you. Go to the Therapist Directory section on the website to find yourself a therapist who suits your requirements. You can check the issues they specialise in treating, and the sort of treatments they provide for those issues. A little bit of research on the website will go a long way here. You can get their contact details on the BACP website and then contact them via phone/email to set up your appointment.

Phoenix Health and Wellbeing has a team of BACP-certified counsellors. In addition to offering private counselling, Phoenix also offers referred counselling that you can avail via a referral from your GP. Referrals should subsidise your fees for the session, according to the website. But in general, initial sessions are £20, and subsequent ones are £45. 

Awareness and knowledge about your condition like symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, precautions, etc. only put you in a better position to deal with your condition. You can visit the NHS, WebMD, getselfhelp.co.uk and the CCI websites to learn more about your condition, and access a whole bunch of self-help resources.

Moreover, you can find a lot of resources on YouTube on more common conditions such as anxiety and depression that shed light on these conditions from non-medical backgrounds, such as philosophy and spiritualism. These might help add some perspective to your current understanding.

It is normal if university/work starts to feel like a bit much, especially if you’re having a rough time dealing with your mental health condition. 

Please remember that your health is more important than anything else, and it’s not worth trying to bear more than you can at any point in time. 

Don’t push yourself to meet deadlines when you’re already drained from just trying to survive. Besides, you won’t be able to perform your best if you’re not perfectly healthy. 

Take some time off work if necessary. Borrow some money from friends/family. Notify the university of your ailments. Apply for mitigating circumstances for your exams/coursework. There’s even an option for temporary leave if you feel like you need to take some time off, and they even reimburse at least some if not all of the money for that academic year. 

Don’t let external factors force you into sticking it out at university/work when you can’t handle the stress. You can always go back when you’ve recovered. 

Trying to force yourself into situations that you’re not equipped to handle might make things worse. So learn to prioritise and pick one battle at a time.

 Do not hesitate to look for immediate help if you are seriously struggling.

You matter to us. You matter to you.

Visit 

www.mindwell-leeds.org.uk or call 111 for NHS

Urgent Help.

Samaritans can be contacted via phone  (116 123) or email 

(jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie)

(header image credit: The Guardian)