Leeds health charities say more needs to be done to stop 'second mental health pandemic'

Leeds in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemicLeeds in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic
Leeds in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic
Charity and health leaders across Leeds have spoken of their concerns over the impact of a second lockdown on the city and stressed more needs to be done to stop a “second mental health pandemic”.

As the city braces itself for the four-week lockdown from Thursday, services across Leeds say are doing all they can to support those whose mental health is suffering as the pandemic continues - but admit it's "never enough".

Kate Goldring, business development director at Leeds Mind said the new lockdown restrictions “pose a real threat" to people’s mental health adding: “There are some great initiatives that take place across Leeds but we know we need to do even more to stop a second mental health pandemic.”

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Deserted shopping streets in Leeds during the lockdown in March.Deserted shopping streets in Leeds during the lockdown in March.
Deserted shopping streets in Leeds during the lockdown in March.

The charity is calling for more investment in grassroots mental health services to prevent people from reach “crisis point”, she says.

Alison Lowe, chief executive at Leeds mental health charity Touchstone, said the new lockdown prolongs what has already been a mentally tough year and how long it lasts will be vitally important.

“We saw a real reduction in people’s mental health during the first lockdown, which has continued as nothing has really gone back to normal.

“I think the fact the Government is saying it’s four weeks is potentially a lifeline which people will cling on to but if it goes beyond that, I think the sense of despair will be even worse than before.

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“It will be really hard then to see when it’s going to end - there’s no ability to hold hope if it does go beyond December 2.”

Since June, Age UK Leeds has been been taken on referrals from the city’s mental health trust, and chief executive Iain Anderson anticipates the numbers of these will rise over the coming months, along with those asking for help themselves and family referrals.

He said: “The concern is that there are people who have not been out and not had any physical contact with people since March. There’s that group of individuals who have basically confined themselves to their own homes for seven or eight months now.

“Part of our job is to try and encourage them out, even simple things like going to the park, or a walk around the block.

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“The challenge now will be these new restrictions, those people who were hopefully trying to break that confinement will now say ‘no I want to stay at home’ and take a step back again.”

He added: “We are doing some things but it's never enough and what we are finding is we are getting referrals from people who would otherwise have been quite active in their community - quite busy, didn't see themselves as vulnerable or in need."

Val Hewison, chief executive of Carers Leeds said the second lockdown combined with winter, darker nights, poorer weather, Christmas looming and lack of clarity over the rules will cause many they help to retreat, to where it feels safer for them and those they care for.

“I think for a lot of people they are closing their doors again, so the mental health impact is that feeling of loneliness, isolation and feeling cut off.”

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She said carers can be young adults, parents, the elderly, caring for conditions such dementia, mental health, people who have had strokes and cancer.

“All these things are still happening in people’s lives and when services stop or are paused, there’s that feeling of being even more cut off. And I think just being worried about who’s coming into your home and worried about going out - because of the virus.”

Yet she praised the way the city’s services have worked together to tackle mental health during the pandemic.

“I think what we have done as a city is really pull together and I’m proud to be part of that. That attempt to find a solution to this, as best we can, even if it just means asking ‘how are you?’ and saying ‘you’re not alone’," she said.

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Dr Gwyn Elias, GP and clinical lead for mental health for NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group said anyone from any walk of life can be affected by mental health and stressed “it’s ok not to feel ok”.

She said: “I’d urge everyone to stay safely connected and to regularly check in with friends and family. If you have older neighbours or know someone who may be shielding, ask if they need any shopping picking up. This will not only help them but will make you feel better too.

“Connecting with others in a Covid-safe way is just one way we can boost our wellbeing. Other things like learning to relax properly, getting plenty of sleep, exercising, discovering new hobbies – these can all help improve our mood and build our resilience so we’re better able to respond if life takes an unexpected turn.

“However, if you start to struggle with your feelings, it’s really important to reach out for support. Mental health services across the city are open, as they have been throughout the pandemic, and though they may be delivered a little differently, they’re still there to support people who need help.”

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Leeds City Council said the 33 community hubs which were set up to coordinate support to the vulnerable across the city during the first lockdown are still in place and the delivery of food packages has secured funding until the end of December.

And one key difference between this lockdown and the last is that support bubbles will remain in place to help reduce isolation.

Tim Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said: “ As we head into this second lockdown, it’s more important than ever to get support if you’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or lonely. If you, a friend or family member need to talk to someone, please do not hesitate to seek help.

“Leeds is a city where no one should feel alone. A wide range of groups, charities and organisations are available in the city and nationwide offering expert support and advice in confidential settings.”

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For more information on where to access help visit: https://www.leedsccg.nhs.uk/health/reopening-safely/mental-health-support/

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