Mental health support workers report increase in referrals in the pandemic era

Since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago, staying at home for an extended period of time has taken a toll on mental health. Everyone has been affected, regardless of socio-economic groups. 

Those with less resilience and effective support networks have been most affected. Young people who watch or overhear news about the virus, might overthink the possibilities, and get confused and are driven into a state of panic. Those who have been furloughed, are in low-income groups, or are essential workers, have been adversely affected by the lockdowns. The financial pressures or worries about infection are increasing the potential for mental distress. 

Natalie Jarvis, the mental health lead at Oundle School, has reported “perhaps as much as double the norm” for mental health consultation referrals involving young people, with many cases being anxiety-related or stress-induced.

Denise Slater from Oundle CHAT said that the issues that affected young people changed with the lockdowns and school closures.

“There was a drop at the start of lockdown among young people, which we expected. Young people were thrown into a new world and if they had had anxiety about school or bullying then this was taken away from them. However, as time moved on, other anxieties and concerns started to emerge, and we had a return to normal numbers of young people wanting support.”

Regular social contact with friends and family has always been important, and the enforced periods of isolation during the lockdowns have created an imbalance in many people’s lives.

Judie Woods, director at Cambridgeshire Consultancy in Counselling (CCC) said: “The pandemic has thrown nearly all of these fundamental aspects of our familiar lives into disarray and confusion with no certainty about when we can expect any return to our old normal. This unfamiliarity, loss of control and social isolation can lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression.”

For anyone concerned about the mental health of a friend or family member, the symptoms to watch for include anxiety, depression, bereavement from a loss of a close person, insomnia, depression, or feelings of isolation. 

Everyone can play a role in offering support. Acknowledging that life has been and is still very tough for some people is important. “Notice and comment when people are struggling and offer a listening ear. A lot of the time, this is enough,” said Natalie Jarvis.

The CCC recommends using strategies outlined by Dr. Phil Hammond, a doctor famous for his appearance on TV, who has created the following mnemonic to remember eight key steps to improve mental health:

CLANGERS: Connect with other people through meeting online; Learn new things to keep yourself intellectually active; Activity; physical activity; Notice the world around you through being more mindful; Give back to the community, volunteering if possible; Eat a healthy diet; Relax by taking time out to rest, chill, switch off; Sleep around six to eight hours, and have a regular bedtime routine.

Talking to friends and sharing worries is a good first step to improving mental health. There are also several local and national organisations who offer a range of support.

In the first instance, anyone can speak to a GP to discuss mental health concerns. Although they cannot see patients face to face now (except in certain circumstances), they are available on the phone.

There are also private counsellors online who can be found via the Counselling Directory or a simple search. Do be aware that anyone can call themselves a counsellor, so you need to be careful and ensure you find a qualified and reputable person.

One may seek help through several local and national charities or organisations.

Oundle based CHAT offers an opportunity for young people aged 9-25 years old to talk about their concerns with professionals who aim to help improve their wellbeing.

Oundle Rural Mind offers one-to-one consultations for emotional support.
Cambridgeshire Consultancy in Counselling is a mental health charity working in the region that provides affordable counselling to support people with a wide variety of problems, including anxiety.

YoungMinds is a national organisation which aims to reduce suicide rates amongst teenagers.

Childline has counsellors available round-the-clock online or on a phone able to help or talk to any young person about any issue they are going through.

Paxton Leung
1 December 2020