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On the edge: Mental health charities reveal surge in calls because of lockdown isolation and stress

© ShutterstockDoctors say they are working in the dark
Doctors say they are working in the dark

Mental health charities have revealed a huge rise in the number of people seeking support because of the corona-virus lockdown.

One organisation in the north-east has seen calls rise from about 20 a day to over 200, while another group in the central belt said contacts had escalated dramatically, including some from frontline NHS workers.

Meanwhile, the Samaritans described the coronavirus crisis as the biggest its helpline has faced and have issued an appeal for help, with almost a third of volunteers self-isolating.

Ann Marie Cocozza, co-founder of charity Families Affected by Murder and Suicide, said: “Calls to our helplines are through the roof and the situation is going to get far worse before it gets better.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling and on the edge because of the lockdown. It has left them desperate, with nobody to turn to.”

Last year Scotland had 784 suicides and experts fear that number will rise.

Ann Marie, whose Lanarkshire-based group has 50 volunteers, said: “People were barely hanging on before the pandemic. Now, with people trapped in lockdown, left with no jobs, stuck at home worrying about money and their future and cut off from those they’d normally turn to for help, we expect suicide rates to rise.

“We’d usually get around 50 calls a week. But over four days last week we had 98 calls, not counting the contacts through social media and the internet.”

Wray Thomson, founder of Aberdeen-based help group Man Chat, said: “We are seeing a massive spike in demand. We would take perhaps 20 to 50 messages per day and that has gone up to 200 to 300.

“Loneliness is more and more of an issue. We are in the north-east but people are calling from Glasgow, Edinburgh and across the country.”

Anne Rowan, who founded Wishaw-based help group Chris’s House after her son took his own life, said: “This past week we have experienced a huge increase in people seeking help, including frontline NHS staff who are feeling very anxious. Anxiety is widespread and people are struggling.”

Last week, a major new study was launched into the mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic across the UK. The research, tracking 3,000 adults across the UK for at least six months, will focus on the unprecedented social distancing measures and the effect on anxiety, depression or loneliness.

Professor Rory O’Connor, from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, who is leading the research, said: “Our study aims to understand the psychological impact of Covid-19 and to identify what helps keep people safe and well.”

Jo Anderson, of charity SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health, said: “There are many things you can do to look after your mental well-being during this time including keeping track of any changes in your feelings and emotions so you can seek support as early as possible.”

Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, said: “This is an uncertain time and it is okay to feel worried or unsettled. Simple things like paying attention to how you’re feeling and making time for activities you enjoy can boost our wellbeing.

“Catching up with loved ones by phone, message or email can help us feel connected. Starting a conversation can be an important first step to help someone feel less isolated.”

Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey MSP said: “The current situation is an understandable cause of anxiety for many people.

“It is vital that during this period anyone who requires support can receive it. That is why we have invested an additional £3.8 million to support the NHS 24 Mental Health Hub and Breathing Space.”

Call Samaritans free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org