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Help is out there

The Covid-19 crisis has had a serious impact on many people’s mental health. Psychologist and our Patron, Dr Andy Mayers writes a guest blog about the support available in Dorset throughout the lockdown.

The lives of everyone in Dorset changed dramatically in late March 2020. As the justified fear over COVID-19 grew, the UK Government placed the country into lockdown to protect lives and to help avoid the NHS being totally overwhelmed.

Several weeks on, many of us are adjusting to the ‘new normal’. But, for a significant number, this period has had a serious impact on mental health.  The effects of COVID-19 has created anxiety for everyone but, for those who already struggle with their anxiety, this impact has been even greater.

Across some of the groups I work with, I have especially seen this among those who experience obsessive-compulsive symptoms. In these cases, intrusive thoughts around contamination and cleanliness are very common.

The messages around how to remain safe and well only serve to exacerbate this. Irrational fears over not being clean become uncontrollable without excessive (and potentially damaging) actions to counteract those obsessions.

As we all remain committed to social distancing and staying at home for most of the day, we are seeing increasing feelings of isolation.

There is plenty of evidence that loneliness and isolation pose a great risk for worsening mental health. The growth of online and virtual meetings, including Skype, FaceTime, and WhatsApp videos helps, but the removal of human contact is hard for most of us.

Also, many people have lost primary sources of income. While there has been some Government help, there is great anxiety over financial concerns over the longer term. There is a great deal of evidence showing that poverty and hardship lead to poorer mental health.

Mental health support in Dorset

So, how is mental health being supported in Dorset? There are reports that many NHS services have been suspended, while charity and community support groups can no longer provide face-to-face support. Even so, there are many great examples of support still occurring.

Within NHS settings, Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust provides clinical mental health services. In normal times, these include a full range of inpatient and outpatient interventions. The current lockdown severely limits what can be done that accommodates the need for social distancing.

Those who are more acutely unwell will need to remain in hospital settings, but with many restrictions including permission regarding visitors. Outpatient support, such as Community Mental Health Teams (CMHT) also cannot be undertaken through face-to-face therapy, so many of these have needed to be suspended.

The excellent Retreat and Community Front Rooms are also shut for the moment. However, access to emergency support remains available 24/7 through The Dorset HealthCare Connection service by calling 0300 123 5440.

Remote support

A key feature of Dorset HealthCare’s mental health support is self-referral to Steps-to-Wellbeing. Prior to lockdown, interventions included access to professional help such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Social distancing measures mean that this cannot currently be conducted face-to-face, but Dorset HealthCare do now offer a range of remote support and access to webinars and other resources.

The charity sector is also working hard to maintain services. Dorset Mind remains committed to support mental health across Dorset, especially through Covid. All services have been adapted to be delivered by video or telephone. You can read more about those services here.

As Patron for the charity, I am especially impressed by Dorset Mind’s resource MyDorsetMind. Brilliantly developed by Crowd, it uses images of our beautiful Dorset scenery alongside mindfulness techniques to enhance wellbeing and better mental health. Dorset Mind has also produced these tips for protecting mental health throughout this challenging time.

Help for parents

Dorset Parent Infant Partnership (DorPIP) provides support to parents through pregnancy and up to the infants’ second birthday. I am a Trustee for that charity. Services include vital therapeutic support for parent-infant relationships.

Throughout COVID-19, we know that parents-to-be have significant fears over the impact of the virus on the mother and foetus. Increased isolation has also meant that caring for a new baby has presented many challenges for parents. DorPIP is addressing those concerns in addition to the usual services. Until further notice, all support will be provided online.

Acts Fast provides support to families where their child has been sexually abused. Childhood sexual abuse is a significant risk factor for a lifetime of poor mental health. I am Chair of that charity. There is growing evidence that family confinement has led to increased domestic abuse and child abuse (emotional, physical and sexual).

Furthermore, escape from these environments is harder during lockdown and children have less access to someone outside the family to confide in. All counselling and family support will be done by telephone, email or text.

Andy has set up a page on his website to signpost to current support for mental health during COVID-19. The UK Government has also provided advice on maintaining wellbeing during this time.

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