SPECIAL REPORT: Is Cheshire facing a Covid-19 mental health timebomb?

From teenagers attempting suicide to growing levels of despair because of the lockdown, Covid-19 is causing rising levels anxiety and affecting people’s mental health.

In a series of special reports, the Steve Morgan Foundation has contacted charities in Cheshire that we’ve supported through the Covid-19 Emergency Fund to get the picture on the ground.

The lack of face-to-face contact because of social distancing and growing financial pressures have pushed many vulnerable people to the brink with many charities expecting a rush on their services when the lockdown is fully lifted.

The Steve Morgan Foundation Covid-19 Emergency Fund has handed out more than £4.5m and made more than 450 awards during the critical first 12 weeks of the pandemic across Merseyside, North Wales and Cheshire.

However a breakdown reveals that 130 awards totalling £1.452m were specifically for mental health and directly helped 587,752 people.

Claire Bradbury is the CEO of  Power in Partnership (PiP),which helps young people in Runcorn and Widnes deemed as NEET, which stands for not in education employment or training.

“When you  think of our students all 16-18 and 50 per cent with an additional learning need you can but imagine how difficult it has been thus far,” she said. 

“One of our students has sadly tried to take their own life five times during lockdown and I think other students have found it hard not to see their friends and teachers. 

“At least through the Steve Morgan Foundation grant we have been able to provide emotional support for the last three months to them and their families.”

Nick Taylor is the chief executive of Warrington-based The Peace Foundation, which tries to prevent violent conflict.  He said: “There is a similar pattern followed in almost all national emergencies such as terrorist attacks and it is what happens now that can set the tone for the future.  Most people, will present as resilient and resistant. 

“From our experience about 20 per cent may need additional support and, whilst this is not a precise measurement, 5 per cent of the total number may need a psychological intervention. 

“People may need months or even years of ‘active monitoring’ of their mental health after things return to some semblance of normality. 

“The Steve Morgan Foundation has allowed us to continue our support service over the past three months and we are trying to persuade the Government to fund our service moving forward.  The mental health ramifications of Covid-19 are severe and long-term and it is important we support vital work in the weeks, months and year ahead.” 

Charles Maines is the chief executive of the Crewe-based Wishing Well Project and said: “There appears to be a lot of fear, anxiety and despair in the communities that we reach. A recent turn in weather and the economic downturn that is already taking hold of our key town of Crewe (job losses at Bentley etc) means that there are certainly some challenging waters ahead.”

Stephanie Lawley is the co-founder of Central Cheshire Buddy Scheme, which supports children and young people with disabilities. 

She said the following feedback from users was typical of the messages the charity had received during the pandemic.

“I haven’t been out of the house for 12 weeks,” said the unnamed user. “I’m not sure what to say to people, I am finding it very, very difficult – I am scared about the strict Government rules.”

Another user said: “My brother nearly put a chair through the window, he is autistic, he doesn’t understand what it is all about. I have just been staying in my room to keep out of the way.”

One of the parents of the young people supported by the Central Cheshire Buddy Scheme said of her son: “He hasn’t been out of the house – really scared about catching the virus. He watches the news every night to find out what is going on. I am going to struggle to get him back to school in September.”

Another parent said of their daughter: “This lockdown has seriously affected her mental health, her routine and structure to the day is completely turned around. I really need some help.”

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