Leeds charities urge anyone struggling during these 'dark times' to reach out for help

Mental health experts in Leeds have spoken of their fear that “people’s ability to hold on is fading fast” as the nation enters its third lockdown in the battle against coronavirus - but issued a clarion call to those struggling to “reach out for help” and stressed “this won’t last forever”.

By Joanna Wardill
Saturday, 9th January 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th January 2021, 2:48 pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s stay-at-home order, which is set to last at least seven weeks, will have been a devastating blow to the already-fragile mental health of the nation due to the ongoing pandemic.

Coming during the cold winter months and so soon after a Christmas where many were unable to see loved ones, charity chiefs in Leeds have raised concerns that the well-being of virtually everyone will be severely tested.

Today the YEP once again is shining a light on mental health, with a renewed appeal to #SpeakYourMind, the well-being campaign we launched in 2017 to tackle the stigma surrounding the issue of mental health.

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Fears many will struggle with their mental health during this third lockdown. Picture: PA

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Alison Lowe, chief executive of Leeds mental health charity Touchstone, said the new lockdown, coupled with concerns over delays to second doses in the vaccine roll-out was a “double whammy”.

“It’s really hard to try and inject hope in these circumstances. But we will get through the other side and it’s this process of adversity that will make us stronger.”

But she said few will escape the struggles of mental health with this ongoing pandemic.

Alison Lowe, chief executive of Touchstone

“Nothing is secure, nothing is stable, nothing is certain. And people are supposed to have mental health and well-being in that environment? It’s not possible. Even if you’ve never had mental health difficulties before.

“I would be shocked if people are happy and healthy, living the lives they’ve always lived in that scenario.”

She said the lack of consistency and clarity over recent months - citing hopes of no more lockdowns before we entered our third and children told to go to school, then schools shutting - has a real impact on mental health.

“Not feeling like you have control of your life is a major factor in mental well-being - if you don’t know, for long periods of time, what’s coming next. Even basic things like ‘can I send my kids to school, can I afford to buy this?’”

Alison said the charity had already been receiving “a lot” of phone calls from people worried about the future and their access to support.

She said she is keen for face-to-face help to continue despite the lockdown.

“That’s really important. I’m worried that people’s abilities to hold on, hold on, hold on is fading fast.

“Nothing is changing, in fact it’s getting worse.”

But she added: “Some of us will find it harder than others to fight through these dark times but please ask for help. Asking for help is not a sin. I know there is a stigma attached to it but that’s about other people. You are the person experiencing these thoughts, you are entitled to help - the help is there. Ask for it and it will come.”

Her plea was echoed by Helen Kemp, chief executive of Leeds Mind, who acknowledged the lockdown as creating the feeling of “going backwards rather than progressing forwards” but urged anyone struggling to “reach out”.

She said the current situation “is likely to have a real impact on our collective mental health once again”, with many dealing with additional stress such as childcare and disruption to work.

“We are reminding people that if they are struggling, it is not any kind of personal failure or weakness and there is no right or wrong way to feel,” she said.

She offered advice such as connecting with others, staying active, eating well and being mindful about the information you are consuming - as well as trying to focus on the positives including the news that one million people have had their first vaccine dose and the estimation that most vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated by mid-February.

“There is a solution in sight, and this won’t last forever,” she added.

Dr Gwyn Elias, GP and clinical lead for mental health for NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, suggested ways to boost well-being could include virtual catch-ups, exercising outdoors and learning a new skill or hobby.

But she also stressed the importance of looking out for each other and keeping the mental health conversation going.

“We need to be kind to ourselves and to each other. It’s really important that people feel able to talk about how they’re feeling so please check in with each other and ask how your friends and family members are - and listen to what they say.

“If you feel you can’t do that - or you’re worried about someone - there’s a wide range of services available in Leeds, including self-help resources, helplines and crisis services.”

She added: “It’s important to remember that the restrictions are temporary and will reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

Alison Lowe, of Touchstone, also urged people to keep in mind that life will return to normal one day soon.

“Time is a brilliant thing”, she said. “Through the passage of time will come better things.”

Important websites and numbers:

West Yorkshire mental health 24/7 support line, provides confidential advice - 0800 183 0558

Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service, for anyone aged 17 or over: www.leedsmentalwellbeingservice.co.uk

For children and young people: www.mindmate.org.uk

For those struggling with alcohol and drug use: www.forwardleeds.co.uk

Leeds Mind: 0113 305 5800, or email [email protected]

For people in crisis:

Connect, open 6pm-2am on 0808 8001212 or online chat at www.lslcs.or.yk

For people in crisis: Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s 24/7 single point of access on Freephone 0800 183 1485.

For people in crisis: A team of peer-support workers in partnership with Touchstone - 0113 8556191 or visit it www.leedsandyorkpft.nhs.uk/our-services/srvices-list/crisis

Samaritans Leeds - 116 123 or 0113 245 6789

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