Mental health during Covid times
Debt and financial hardship can both result from, and be a cause of, stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. Sadly, we’re seeing more and more people in this situation – here is Philippa, one of our Community Outreach Advisers to tell you a bit more.
Having worked for years with people who struggle with their mental health and having been on my own roller coaster, which has, at times had extreme lows - I know how important it is for people to be aware of the things that affect their mental health, to look at what they can do to help themselves and to find out where they can get support.
I have come to recognise the factors that can be protective for our mental wellbeing, but so many of these have been affected by Covid. These are things such as relationships with family and friends, having somewhere safe and secure to live, financial stability, a sense of purpose and a positive identity (which can be helped through work, volunteering, caring role, a social club), and perhaps most importantly, hope!
So many clients that I see every week had been managing to function in everyday life, or at least as far as the world could see but Covid-19 put everything under a huge magnifying glass that brought that fragile house of cards tumbling down. Not being able to meet with friends or family for a coffee and a chat which may have been what was helping them hold things together. People not being able to afford the heating or electricity needed when children were being home schooled, or they were working from home or on furlough. Not having that routine of going to work and feeling that sense of achievement or seeing work colleagues. Not knowing when Covid-19 will end.
However, I do want to stress that there is always HOPE! Take for example, my lovely client Shona. She was managing well by keeping busy. She had a good job and a lovely family. Then she had to stay off work when her children were sent home from school in the first lockdown. All of a sudden she had to stop the busyness of her life and had time to think. Traumatic memories from the past began to resurface and there were no distractions to push them away. Shona’s anxiety became heightened to the point she felt unable to go out or meet with friends, not that she would have been allowed to at that time. Shona then lost her job as she wasn’t well enough to return to work when her sick leave came to an end. Whilst all this was going on Shona was struggling to work out how to budget monthly on benefits instead of weekly and on significantly less money. Shona was getting into debt, it was starting to spiral out of control and it was constantly on her mind, heightening her anxiety, lowering her mood and stopping her from sleeping. On top of all of this, she was being threatened with court action and bailiffs.
We were able to help Shona work out a monthly budget that kept her within the money she had coming in. We had access to funding to help pay off a significant proportion of her electricity and gas arrears. The utilities company had been refusing to let Shona set up a direct debit without paying her arrears but when we became involved this changed. Shona was able to set up a direct debit to cover her monthly usage and a manageable amount towards her arrears. We helped Shona apply for disability benefits to help her be more financially stable until she is able to work again. Shona is receiving support with her mental health and is starting to get back on her feet. I hear hope in her voice when I speak with her and she is looking towards the future and speaking about the things she wants to do with her family when she is well enough.
Although not the easiest thing to do, Shona did the most important thing that any of us need to do if we are struggling. She asked for help! Had she not asked things could easily have continued to spiral out of control with her debts and her anxiety and depression becoming worse. You may feel like you are the only person experiencing what you are, but I want to say to you today that you are not alone and there are people and organisations out there who can help. When 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year in England and 1 in 6 experience a common mental health problem like anxiety or depression in any given week we need to remove the stigma that makes people feel they have to keep it a secret. It is amazing that when I have plucked up the courage to mention to friends how I am feeling, how many of them can identify having been there, and how just voicing my fears and getting them out into the light of day made them feel more manageable. As the client I spoke to today said,
“I just feel better for speaking to someone and to have got the ball rolling”
I have listed some organisations below where you can get help. Please do not struggle on alone!
For debt, help with utilities, white goods and applying for benefits…
call Reach on 01440 712950 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For help with mental health…
Contact your GP who can refer you to emotional wellbeing services or you can self refer to Wellbeing Suffolk (free NHS service) via their website or by phone. They offer 1:1 support, self help, webinars and counselling for individuals, couples and families.
0300 123 1503
First Response is a helpline for people of all ages in Norfolk and Suffolk who need urgent mental health support. The helpline is available all day, every day.
If you are feeling unsafe, distressed or worried about your mental health. Telephone the helpline on 0808 196 3494
If you have an interest in developing your general wellbeing you might benefit from coaching with LifeLink. The LifeLink coordinators connect people to social activities, clubs, groups and local services that are on offer in their local community. They can also coach participants on a one-to-one basis, working together to find each person’s ways to improve their wellbeing and meet their needs. To find out more please visit their website where you can self-refer or ask Reach to make a referral for you.
If you are not in Suffolk, or you have a specific need not mentioned above you can find out which Mental Health services are available in your area, visit https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health