Warning of coronavirus impact on mental health services

Aberdeen charity expects surge in number of people seeking help as new curbs brought in to fight spread of virus.

Charities are warning that the impact of the cornavirus outbreak is expected to cause a huge surge in the number of people seeking help for mental health-related problems.

Now with the UK in effective lockdown – schools closed, social distancing measures in place and people being urged to self-isolate – voluntary organisations say they expect to be inundated with cases in the weeks and months to come.

They’re now having to make significant changes to the way they offer their service, but amidst the crisis sweeping the country, say they’re determined to continue to offer the best support they can to those who need it the most. One such charity is Mental Health Aberdeen.

Chief executive Astrid Whyte has experienced many challenges in a career spanning more than 30 years, now she says she’s facing her organisation’s greatest one.

MHA, like others across Scotland, is having to stop all face-to-face counselling due to the coronavirus, offering therapy through telephone consultations instead.

She said: “We’ve never had to globally close all our service provision. That feels all wrong. I would like to do the very opposite. I want to extend it, make it much more available.

“We can’t because of the type of crisis we are facing. My only response to it is we will provide services in a different way.”

With 200 people already receiving appointments and a waiting list of three hundred, Mental Health Aberdeen will be unable to take on any new referrals, offering therapy through telephone consultations instead.

To do all this it needs an extra 100 volunteers. It currently has a core team of 40.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Astrid added. “We’ve sometimes been floored, due to a local disaster. I remember Piper Alpha. But I truly cannot remember anything like this and of this scale.

“I would expect many more people to have mental health issues and for absolutely a very clear reason: this is a crisis.

She add: “This is challenging to anybody, and it doesn’t matter what age you are, it doesn’t matter what gender you are. Clearly this will be stressful and it can break some people.

“It would be really good if people phoned us before it came to that absolute bottom bit. We will do our best but you need to come and tell us.”

Mental Health Aberdeen relies on donations, but with most fundraising events cancelled because of the pandemic, it needs financial backing to carry it through the testing times.

One person helping them to raise money is Kayleigh Rennie. Her husband Neil, an avid Aberdeen football fan and father-of-two, took his own life aged 35 a year ago.

She said: “Neil was ashamed. He didn’t want people to know.

“I thought if this is the case and it is bigger than just me that’s affected, there has to be a way of some good that can come of what’s happened to Neil and try to get it out there that it’s ok not to be ok.

“If it helps just one person then we’re doing something rather than nothing.”

In the financial year to this April, MHA estimates is will have carried out 10,000 appointments.

It’s now appealing to the public to consider donating, so the vital service they provide can continue through the country’s crisis.

“If we now withdraw services and counselling I would fear for people’s lives,” said Astrid.

“I do not want to see an increase in our suicide statistics. We can do this and we can help and support people further, but we do need support, we need help.

“Please get in touch, let us know how you are. We will have helplines, please phone us.”

MHA hopes to have the helplines set up by the end of this week.  

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