Coronavirus ‘war language’ may stop people seeking help with mental health

Referring to the coronavirus outbreak as a war to be fought may deter people in a mental health crisis from seeking help, a charity has warned.

Suicide Crisis said the Covid-19 lockdown is causing “extreme mental suffering”, but chief executive Joy Hibbins said those the charity is supporting “don’t want to burden the NHS” at this time.

The charity has seen a “marked increase” in levels of distress and those seeking support, with a 40% rise in people getting in touch after it was announced that the lockdown would be extended.

Ms Hibbins said: “There is a sense in which we are all trying to pull together in the national interest and in particular to defeat the virus.

“For some people, that will help create a feeling of unity and shared purpose. However, some people may feel that they are ‘letting the side down’ if they acknowledge that they are struggling and need help.

“There are lots of references to being ‘strong’. If we are all feeling that we need to be strong, then it can make it harder to seek help – or show vulnerability. People can start to have feelings of guilt and shame about being in crisis.”

The Gloucestershire-based charity said it is seeing an increase in people having thoughts of self-harm, as well as people who have become newly depressed during the lockdown.

This includes a young woman who had previously enjoyed a fulfilling life which included voluntary work and access to mental health support groups.

Ms Hibbins said: “All of that had instantly disappeared. She felt completely isolated, and felt that she had lost her purpose in life.

“Within a space of a few weeks, she had deteriorated to such an extent that she was contemplating suicide. She is now receiving support from our team.”

Ms Hibbins called for greater national recognition of the mental health toll the lockdown is taking, with fewer psychiatric staff available and community mental health services operating at a reduced level.

It comes as a survey by the charity Rethink Mental Illness found that 80% of respondents with mental illness said the Covid-19 outbreak had caused their mental health to deteriorate.

Almost half (47%) of 800 respondents said their mental health had worsened because they are now receiving less support from mental health services.

And more than a third (36%) said they had not booked or attended medical appointments which they felt they should have done due to worries about catching the virus, burdening the NHS, or because appointments were unavailable.

The charity is launching Clic, a free, online support community to help respond to the increased demand for mental health support across the country

Rethink chief executive Mark Winstanley said: “Aside from the terrible risk to life, coronavirus has quickly become of the most dangerous threats to the nation’s mental health we have ever faced – despite what the heroes in the health and social care workforce are doing.

“This survey reinforces the reality that, because of the crisis, people simply can’t access what they could before and so we need the whole mental health sector to step in to help people whose problems are escalating and are becoming isolated and remote.”