Written: August 13, 2020
In the last three weeks, there has been a marked increase in the number of people accessing our suicide crisis centre. This coincides with the easing of lockdown. The last time we saw such high numbers was when the strict lockdown was extended. It may seem surprising that an apparent improvement in the situation coincides with a greater need for our services, but it can be explained.
Of course, there will be highly individual and personal reasons why someone may be more vulnerable at this time. Much of this relates to their personal circumstances and history. But certain aspects of the easing of lockdown may become a contributory factor at a time when someone’s inner resources are already depleted.
Back in March, many people hoped for a “short, sharp” period of strict lockdown followed by a return to something resembling their previous life within months. It has now become apparent that our lives will be different and will remain restricted for a longer period – and the length of this period is uncertain. This realisation is difficult for most of us. For a depressed person, it is even harder and may compound the sense of hopelessness and of a bleak future. They may find it hard to see an end to it. Depression is already distorting their thinking. In response to the uncertain future, many of us are trying to just focus on today, and are taking what comfort or pleasure we can from simple things like being in nature.
The continued disruption to psychiatric services is also having a significant impact. Vital psychological and psychiatric services remain on hold for many people. The longer this continues, the more risk there is of someone’s mental health deteriorating, and this is why some people are experiencing a crisis now.
Complex or secondary psychological services often support people with more complex trauma, where their risks are considered too high for the Improved Access To Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service. It is not hard to see why the continued disruption to their treatment is having an impact. Similarly, many people under secondary psychiatric services are still receiving only short check-in phone calls.
I find it hard to understand why psychiatric services were not designated an essential service, which would have required the provision of more than short check-in calls.
Face to face psychiatric appointments should be resuming soon, thankfully. These have been available in urgent situations, but should now be extended to regular appointments, too.
Physical medical treatment remains disrupted, too. This is also impacting on some of our clients because the treatment which they need has not been available, which has had an ongoing impact on their quality of life. Again, the longer it continues, the greater the impact and the more likelihood of deterioration.
It was hoped that the easing of lockdown would allow us all to become more connected again. But for many of us, this is not the case, because the focus has been on re-opening pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues. This has had little impact on most of our clients. Many of our clients say that they would drink at home rather than in a pub, because they are drinking to block out their emotional pain. Many of them remain isolated and disconnected. They would much rather that their psychiatric or medical care resumed, or their support groups, rather than see more leisure facilities open.
The wearing of masks has become essential to protect us all, but it has also contributed to the sense of disconnection. For some people, going to the supermarket was a source of contact with other people. However, masks now create a physical barrier and a separation between us all. It can leave someone feeling even more isolated and alone. And for some people, who cannot wear a mask for psychological reasons, it can make them feel even more separate – and they may start to dread going out, for fear of judgement or criticism. It’s one of the reasons why spending time in open spaces (where masks are not required) can be helpful. This allows some opportunities for connection. As we try our best to maintain social distance, perhaps awkwardly as we give someone else the space to pass, they will often comment or thank us. These small interactions can help all of us.
Many of our clients are being directly affected by redundancy, now that the furlough scheme has been withdrawn. As each new day dawns, we seem to hear of more well-known organisations announcing redundancies. Even for people not directly affected, this can have an impact: to a depressed individual, it may all contribute to a perception of a desolate future. Many of us have had to stop watching the news, or have limited our exposure to it, for the sake of our mental wellbeing. And some of us are coping with the raft of negative news by holding on to each positive piece of news which comes along: for example, news that the virus may be starting to become less virulent, or positive news of treatments to limit its effects.
We are seeing a larger number of people in their late teens and twenties, and also more people in their fifties, sixties and seventies. A number of younger people have taken some relief during lockdown from a period away from a job or university course which they were finding overwhelming or distressing in some way. The prospect of returning feels unmanageable for some of them, and has contributed to their mental health deteriorating as lockdown eases.
In the coming weeks, many of us will remain vulnerable. Our mental health may be more fragile. We need to continue to look out for each other – our loved ones, friends, neighbours and strangers who we pass on the street. Care, kindness and connection provide powerful reasons to stay alive – both giving and receiving them. And the smallest interactions can help. There has never been a more important time to notice everyone you pass. We should not walk unnoticed at our time of greatest need.
There is a positive side to the increased numbers of people accessing our Suicide Crisis Centre. It means that they are seeking help, and this gives the best chance of survival.
For information about face to face services at the Suicide Crisis Centre in Gloucestershire: http://www.suicidecrisis.co.uk Other sources of help nationally include telephone support from The Samaritans on 116 123 and the national NHS 111 service, which can direct you to sources of help in your area, including face to face help. Just call 111. The national Mind Helpline is also available on weekdays on 0300 123 3393 and they can direct you to sources of help.