'When I heard we were going into a second lockdown my heart sank' - Leeds carer tells of pandemic's toll on mental health

Nikki Swarbrick, 46, who is a full-time carer to daughter Lottie, 16.Nikki Swarbrick, 46, who is a full-time carer to daughter Lottie, 16.
Nikki Swarbrick, 46, who is a full-time carer to daughter Lottie, 16.
“When I heard we were going into a second lockdown my heart sank.”

Those are the words of one Leeds carer - one of the many people across the city bracing themselves for the second lockdown and the inevitable toll it will take on their already fragile mental health.

City charity Carers Leeds say they are anticipating an increase in the emotional support that they will need to be offering to all the unpaid family carers as the pandemic continues and the nation enters a four-week shutdown from Thursday.

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

Mum-of-two Nikki Swarbrick, 46, of Garforth is a full-time carer to daughter Lottie, 16, who has been diagnosed with autism, non-psychotic hallucinations, generalised anxiety disorder and depression.

When the pandemic broke out, Nikki said several “lifeline” services Lottie accessed suddenly stopped.

This caused Lottie’s mental health to deteriorate to such an extent she became suicidal and over the next few months Nikki herself spiralled into depression.

She said: “I have had an actively suicidal child at home which is really horrendous.

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“For me, the minute I walked out of her bedroom, I was scared she was going to do something. It left me with that feeling. If someone said ‘let’s go out for a walk’, I didn't feel like I could. If I did, what was she going to do while I was away?

“I know some people are angry at the services [closing] but I’m not because it just is the way it is. But unfortunately all her support networks were gone.”

And while Nikki remained focused on Lottie’s health, it slowly dawned on her that she was becoming unwell herself.

“I realised that I had got a big problem. Even though she started to get better and lockdown had eased and I could meet a friend, I was feeling so bad that I couldn’t.

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“I was in tears all the time. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to do anything. I had got to this point where I was trapped, I felt like a prisoner trapped.”

A visit to the doctor in August led to a prescription for antidepressants which she says have started to help, along with invaluable support from Carers Leeds.

Nikki said: “They said something that’s really helped. I said ‘Every time I try to do something, I can’t do it, it feels awful’. And they said ‘Whatever you start with isn’t going to be pleasurable’ but suggested doing small things each time to build my tolerance.

“As soon as I set off, I had horrendous anxiety but did more the next day and felt a bit better.”

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Now she feels strong enough to get out and about and has begun volunteering with a local food co-op but admits the news about a second lockdown was a blow.

“When I heard we that we were locking down again my heart sank. But I knew it had to come.

“I’m quite a grateful person, I’m not an angry person. Yes it is awful that everything that could help us has stopped but I know there are people in worse positions. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table.”

Keeping Lottie safe is her main focus, she said, adding: “The food co-op gives me a purpose and I’m just trying to keep things ticking over.”

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