World Mental Health Day: Leeds charities warn of pandemic's 'dramatic impact' on mental health

Charity bosses in Leeds have voiced fears the Covid-19 crisis is leaving the city facing a “tsunami” of mental health repercussions.

By Joanna Wardill
Saturday, 10th October 2020, 6:00 am

The warning comes as the globe unites for World Mental Health Day today - an annual awareness-raising campaign which this year is timelier than ever as the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health runs deep across the city.

Mental health experts in Leeds have told the Yorkshire Evening Post the situation has been deteriorating since the pandemic broke out - intensifying the issues for those with existing problems but also affecting others for the first time.

Alison Lowe, chief executive of mental health charity Touchstone, said Covid-19 and lockdown has had a “dramatic impact” on the health and wellbeing of people they work with.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Stock image, mental health. Picture: PA

“Not only are people reporting increased loneliness and isolation, the effects of furloughing, redundancy and loss of job security are massively impacting on mental wellbeing. People who were just managing are now in desperate straits, with no end in sight.”

Alarming figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found Yorkshire has the highest suicide rates in the country for men and women.

While that data relates to 2019 deaths, Helen Kemp, chief executive of Leeds Mind, said: “It’s a worrying trend, considering the difficulties that this year has brought.”

She said: “While Covid-19 has been a physical health crisis, we are now faced with a tsunami of mental health repercussions, “ adding: “The pandemic has really brought home the fact that everyone has mental health, just as everyone has physical health.”

A recent survey by Leeds Mind found 60 per cent of people in Yorkshire say their mental health has worsened in lockdown and just over one in five adults with no previous history are now reporting their mental health is “poor or very poor”.

A similar result was found at Caring for Life, a Christian charity which supports vulnerable and at-risk people and hosts therapeutic activities at its site in north Leeds.

A survey there revealed 61 per cent of the people they help had seen their mental health issues “badly exacerbated” by the pandemic and up to 14 per cent who didn’t previously have mental health issues were now presenting with them.

Gayle Pennant, Caring for Life’s pastoral director, said: “What we aim to give people here is purpose and engagement. [Throughout Covid] we have tried to keep up the engagement remotely but it’s very hard to keep the purpose going and that is definitely having an impact on people’s mental health.”

At Leeds Mencap, which supports people with learning disabilities, 94 per cent of its families have reported feeling more isolated during Covid-19, with 77 per cent experiencing increased anxiety.

Its CEO Cath Lee said: “The current pandemic has put them under incredible strain with many feeling overwhelmed, isolated and alone as much of the usual support around them has disappeared overnight.”

As well as the removal of face to face support services, the experience of enforced social isolation is also having a major impact on people’s mental health.

Touchstone Leeds has reported a rise in the number of single-person households it helps. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the charity has given out almost 150,000 meals through its ‘Touchstone Loves Food” campaign - a food and emotional support service - and over 50 per cent of these were to single-person households.

Darren de Souza, the charity’s community health development manager, said there has been a “mental health crisis” from the start in the city.

“The deterioration started on March 23 when lockdown started. Mental health in communities has been a struggle for some time - particularly in the most deprived wards - and lockdown has just exacerbated those problems.”

Highlighting the sheer scale of the problem, he said: “Those that have assets - work, social contact, family and friends around them - are struggling. So those that don’t have those things, it’s just a major issue.

“We will continue to do what we can but the problem is very worrying. It’s a massive issue and it needs a multi-agency community response to support people around their mental health.”

One of the keys, he says, is tackling stigma - whether that’s among friends, family or the workplace.

“That’s the one thing that stops people getting the help they need. We need to be compassionate to people struggling and listen to each other and support each other,” he said.

Dr Gwyn Elias, GP and clinical lead for mental health for NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said the situation will be particularly tough for people over the winter months and urged those in need to reach out for help.

“Anyone from any walk of life can be affected by mental ill health. It’s important to recognise that this year has been particularly hard and it’s okay not to feel okay.”

Mindwell Leeds, commissioned by the CCG, is a mental health website which brings together information from all sectors of the city.

It has just secured new funding from the Leeds Better Care Fund to rebuild its website to become a go-to place for mental health information for people and professionals in the city.

It has had 185,000 users since it first went live in 2016 and in April it launched the Coronavirus Mental Health Hub for up-to-date information on current services.

Tim Ryley, chief executive of NHS Leeds CCG, said: “The website is already a valuable resource for people looking for help and support with their mental health and wellbeing, something that perhaps has never been more important than now.”

Visit www.mindwell-leeds.org.uk/coronavirus

Other 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

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 0300 300 1487

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/criss

A message from the Editor: Leeds has a fantastic story to tell - and the Yorkshire Evening Post has been rooted firmly at the heart of telling the stories of our city since 1890. We believe in ourselves and hope you believe in us too. We need your support to help ensure we can continue to be at the heart of life in Leeds.

Subscribe to our website and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe. For more details on our newspaper subscription offers click here.

Thank you

Laura Collins