W e’ve all been feeling it in one way or another these past few months. Anxiety is a normal reaction to imposed self-isolation and the effects of lockdown on our lives, even if we have good mental health. However, we are already seeing signs that once the physical crisis caused by the pandemic is over, many will be left reeling from the mental health impact.
Hospitals have seen a significant drop in attendance at accident and emergency departments with the British Medical Journal reporting a 25 percent fall in numbers the week after lockdown. Other areas of statutory services are experiencing a similar impact. People are ‘holding off’ seeking urgent care to protect themselves from Covid-19 and to follow the government directive to ‘Protect the NHS’.
Mental Health practitioners in particular are hugely concerned about the devastating knock-on impact this will have in the foreseeable future. Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said experts fear that lockdown is simply “storing up problems, which could then lead to a tsunami of referrals” once all restrictions are lifted.
For Jami, the community’s mental health organisation, the response to the pandemic has so far reflected the experience of our NHS colleagues. The immediate reaction was an increase in demand for support from our existing service users with heightened anxiety and feelings of isolation, but now we are seeing an increase in demand with new referrals.
Many people using Jami’s services already live isolated lives and are amongst the most vulnerable of our society in the current situation. This period of enforced isolation enhances existing symptoms of poor mental health and makes people feel even more alone than ever. Many social care organisations, including Jami, had to close community centres and social hubs to protect service users from the impact of the virus. The knock-on effect for many service users is the removal of the only regular social contact, as well as stripping away daily routines which help to provide structure, independence and thereby maintain self-esteem.
Jami rapidly adapted services, mirroring, as far as possible, the services usually provided face to face. It has set up online weekly programmes for the people who would normally use our hubs or drop in to Head Room Café, with peer support worker-led sessions – people who use their lived experience of mental illness to support others – as well as staff and volunteer-led groups aimed at socialisation, fitness, wellbeing and creative activity.
For those people most at risk, our redeployed staff and volunteers have delivered meals and, even more importantly, had doorstep chats to identify any concerns and escalate support if required. One recipient said: “It makes me feel that someone is there for me, that someone will know if anything is wrong with me. It makes me feel loved and cared about.”
Jami’s social workers and occupational therapists report a 55 percent rise in hours spent supporting people, with a 29 percent rise in the number of people supported on a one-to-one basis compared to pre-Covid-19 levels.
The adapted services are proving to be effective and the uptake by our service users and the wider community in the online programmes and support groups has demonstrated the clear need for the ongoing remote support.
So far, this has been manageable.
The Centre for Mental Health has been forecasting a large rise in the number of people whose mental health will be put at risk as a result of their experiences of the virus and the lockdown. Every single new referral to Jami since March has been as a result of a reaction to the pandemic; we are expecting and planning for the ‘tsunami’.