Yorkshire’s mental health agencies respond to the Covid-19 crisis

Covid-19 doesn’t have to infect you to affect you.

As the side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic begin to manifest themselves in the form of anxiety and stress, recognition is growing of the toll this is taking, particularly on key workers. Organisations in the NHS, public health and the third sector – that reeled like everyone else in the first weeks of the crisis – have started to get on the front foot again in the mental health battle triggered by Covid-19.

In the public sector, health bodies have been working furiously behind the scenes to coordinate a response. One example of this is the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership that has created a bank of online resources for staff mindfulness, as well as training in frontline procedures. This is to help their thousands of staff – those in both clinical and non-clinical roles – cope with the mental health side effects of this situation.

Over in the third sector, the Samaritans initially had to take a defensive approach. In line with government guidance, they stopped offering face-to-face support in order to protect their volunteers, while still remaining open to clients. “It may take us longer to answer the phone or emails, but we’re still here,” said a spokesperson.

However, during the lockdown, they have been anything but idle. From this week, they are partnering with Shout, MIND, Hospice UK and The Royal Foundation to launch Our Frontline: A round-the-clock, one-to-one support service for health workers, those in the emergency services, social care workers and other identified key workers. Visitors to the Our Frontline website can access different support, according to their roles, while still being able to talk to staff on the phone as before.

MIND, the mental health charity, have started to supplement their online offer with a range of information and advice. One new strand is a series of resources for people simply having to go to work during the emergency, as well as advice for people in lockdown with young people having difficulties and tips on coping with panic attacks and the like.

Turning Point, meanwhile, stress that they are still accepting new referrals but prefer online requests, as staffing shortages mean their phone lines are much busier than before. All their treatment interventions are now done on the phone and they have had to suspend all workshops until further notice. They have now widened access to My Turning Point, an online cognitive behaviour therapy tool, to give people the chance to access a common form of therapy they might otherwise have had to wait for.

In the field of complementary therapy, one Yorkshire hypnotherapist’s response to this has been to offer free sessions to people in the frontline of the battle against Covid-19. Amy Brown of Skipton-based Power of Your Mind is offering complementary one-to-one therapy online for people who have been identified as key workers. NHS staff, teachers, delivery drivers, transport and supermarket workers are all invited to seek help in this way. The therapy is delivered online and available to anyone with a smartphone, laptop, tablet or webcam.

As with everything else in this crisis, the picture changes on a daily basis. Sources within local councils have indicated that over the next few weeks further services will be offered, to try to mitigate the mental and psychological impact of Covid-19.

The question is, as more and more of our daily life moves online in response to Covid-19 – including personal therapies and support such as those discussed here – will this become the new normal? One way or another we’re sure to find out.

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