SPECIAL REPORT: Is Merseyside facing a Covid-19 mental health time bomb?

From suicide attempts and self-harming to growing anxiety and isolation, Covid-19 has had a massive impact on people’s mental health.

In a series of special reports, the Steve Morgan Foundation has contacted charities in Merseyside 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.

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.

Rob Lapsley is the co-founder and director of Merseyside bereavement charity Love, Jasmine and said they were gearing themselves for a surge in demand.

“I believe as things slowly get back to normal, we’re going to see a sharp increase in demand,” he said. “We’re presently at capacity in terms of our counselling provision and the reason we don’t have a more lengthy waiting list is because a lot of families would prefer to wait until we return to face-to-face. Any delay in providing support to families can really impact their mental health and that’s a concern to us.”

Eve Barrett is the trust manager at North Birkenhead Development Trust  and said people are ‘reaching a point of exhaustion’.

“This is like nothing we’ve ever experienced,” she said. “In our community, we still very much rely on good old fashioned face-to-face chatting, cups of tea, and friends for support when facing challenges. Being unable to do that has left people isolated and struggling with brand new issues without their usual support networks, which in turn is massively affecting mental health and wellbeing. I also feel that following this, there will be a level of trauma left in communities and there will be some healing to do.”

Matt Parrish is the head of foundation at LFC Foundation and said alongside tackling unemployment, crime and poverty and food poverty, mental health was a top priority.

“Most of our programmes include an element of focus on positive mental health and all on well-being, but as we look to support the community recover from the devastating impact of Covid-19, we are looking to increase the amount of work we deliver with a specific mental health focus,” he said. 

Lynne Howe is a director and co-founder of Wirral-based Crea8ing Careers and said anxiety levels have risen massively.

We have several families whose children already have additional needs and will not leave the house or have become physically sick at the thought of returning to school,” she said. “Another realised that her daughter is obsessively washing her hands and has become withdrawn and others whose behavioural and emotional issues have deteriorated as a result.There are many parents struggling with their own mental health.”

Sharna Kennedy is the communications officer at Tomorrow’s Women Wirral and said the pandemic had exacerbated mental health issues for a lot of women.

“In both our current virtual intervention delivery with women and in preparing for face-to-face interventions whenever that may be, we are expecting mental health to be the main support area to present to us as a support service.”

Annie Ives is the manager of Home-Start Southport & Formby and said isolation was a growing problem.

“Parents, particularly the lone mums, are feeling more and more isolated as the weeks go on and their mental health is deteriorating, she said. “Having the kids at home and trying to home-school while working is really hard for some, particularly to solo parents. I would say that home schooling is pretty much non-existent.”

Nick Dyer is the Hub manager for St Helens-based homeless charity Teardrops and said Covid-19 had led many to use food banks for the first time.

“We have had to deal with numerous individuals calling at our door who are having emotional and mental meltdowns because of lockdown and unable to have emergency appointments with the service they normally use,” he said. 

A spokesman for Tranmere Rovers in the Community said: “During the last 12 weeks of lockdown we have definitely noticed an increase in mental health and wellbeing issues amongst the local.”

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