Croydon charity offer anxiety programme as experts suggest surge in mental health cases post lockdown

Emma Turner has worked at Mind in Croydon for 11 years
PIC: Mind in Croydon

A senior manager of a Croydon mental health charity says she expects to see a surge in demand for their services as the third lockdown ends.

Emma Turner, the deputy CEO of Mind in Croydon, was talking as the charity outlined its plans for Croydon a six-week online anxiety course to help those struggling with the mental health disorder.

6 in 100 people in the UK suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder every week.

As public restrictions ease, these numbers are expected to rise. So far the proportion of adults who show symptoms of depression have almost doubled since the start of the pandemic.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of young people aged 16-39 showing signs of depression in the last year.

Turner, who has worked for the charity for 11 years, told Eastlondonlines: “We will see a greater need for our support services along with statutory services to meet this need.

“We expect to see a surge in demand during the summer as people start to re-enter the world. Although many of our services have remained open to people such as counselling, these sessions have predominantly been delivered remotely and we anticipate a greater number of people needing additional support to manage the challenges which reintegration will bring.”

The Mind in Croydon course aims to outline the causes of the disorder and offer ways to manage it. But how has Covid affected those living with anxiety and what does the future look like for them and the mental health disorder?

Mind in Croydon which was set up in 1967 to help promote good mental health, says that while there is no cure for anxiety, management and methods set in place in times of high anxiety moments (such as Covid) are what enable an individual to live a full life when experiencing anxiety.

The pandemic saw the closure of many places including counselling offices and support groups, meaning charities such as Mind in Croydon resorted to online support.

Turner, who has lived in London for 30 years, said the programmes the charity offers provide invaluable contact and that since lockdown they had struggled to replicate some of this through virtual methods. This, she said, had increased anxiety from some.

She said: “In our experience Covid has affected people who we support in Croydon in a variety of ways. Some people who were accessing our services prior to lockdown suddenly found themselves unable to see people face to face and therefore associated loneliness and social isolation have compounded fragile/ poor mental health on top of that which had previously existed.”.”

For others, virtual support eased their anxiety and was more suited to their lifestyle, not having to travel to the charity, enabling them to fulfil other responsibilities and they might have such as caring for family members or at the time, working from home. 

Daisy Fancourt, a professor at University College London, looked into the psychological impacts of Covid. For some people suffering from mental health disorders, with more time to focus on themselves and experience a slower pace of life, anxiety levels reduced and a greater sense of wellness increased. According to UCL’s COVID-19 study investigating stress in the pandemic, it found over 74,000 people, despite an initial decline in happiness prior to lockdown, wellbeing rose and anxiety levels fell for people with and without mental health disorders.

Laila’s Story

Laila Brick, 17 who lives in Croydon, has suffered from anxiety for the majority of her life, and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression at the age of 14.

She is a sixth-form student in Sydenham.

She found she had to adapt her methods of managing anxiety during Covid.

She said : “I had to try and keep a kinder inner dialogue with myself and remind myself that everyone else is struggling too, that I’d never been through a pandemic before, and it was okay to let myself slack or recharge.

“I found that reaching out to people to reassure myself that I wasn’t alone in feeling a sense of guilt of all the things I hadn’t done really helped and that was something I wouldn’t typically do I would rather keep my anxieties internal.”

Brick found her anxiety during lockdown dramatically increased. She said: “The longer lockdown went on the more my motivation decreased, and I started building anxiety about deadlines and exams…

“I lost my sense of routine which made me feel fairly depleted and consequently I adopted a constant level of anxiety of ‘I could be doing better; I could be doing so much more.”

She added: “The lack of freedom…had a really negative impact on my motivation levels, probably as it almost feels as though I’ve been living the same day on repeat since the whole thing started. She discussed the stigmatization of anxiety and what can be done to reduce it.

She said to fight the taboo around anxiety we need to: “Share resources, reassure people and show support and solidarity…

“A lot of misinformed people mistake it as just nerves which leads to them intentionally or unintentionally invalidating people’s genuine daily struggles when living with anxiety “Therefore they end up trivialising it rather than normalising it.”

Brick said she hasn’t used support groups in the past to help manage her anxiety but would consider it. She said: “I’m always open to trying things again and I would consider a support group.

“Typically, I’d prefer one-on-one support…but since I have never attempted it I’d be willing to give it a go.”

Another of the charity’s programmes, Active Minds, provided the public with mindfulness exercise classes along with fitness ones, to make sure they continue to support those suffering with mental health disorders so that they feel they are not alone or neglected.

Turner said that virtual programmes were in some cases not as effective – especially as it could be hard to gauge someone’s severity of suffering. She said: “It is not always possible to ascertain how someone is actually feeling or doing when communicating online, as humans we miss picking up on cues which are easier to explore when in the same physical space together.”

The Hub in East Croydon has Carers Support, Social Networking, MHPICs (Mental Health Personal Independence Coordinators) and a Recovery Space. PIC: Mind in Croydon

Turner ,who initially joined the charity in 2001 as a mental health advocate, said: “There seemingly was/ is ‘no break’ from news about daily death tolls…and latterly the vaccine roll out has seen a vast amount of hesitancy from various parts of society namely those from BAME communities as well as those living with significant mental illness (4655 in Croydon) to engage with this public health intervention.”

ELL asked Turner whether there was still a taboo around the topic of anxiety. She said: “The conversation being had amongst celebrities and royalty in terms of opening up about their own experiences with anxiety helps to increase the volume of speech around topics such as anxiety…It is my personal view that there will always be differing experiences of anxiety and how this can be experience by one person is not necessarily how another person may experience it. The taboo is being broken down but there is still a way to go.”

The course, which will be held remotely over Zoom, is free to Croydon borough residents and £20 each session for those outside the borough.

Limited funding for campaigns and charities such as Mind in Croydon have affected the service they are able to offer; with only 13 per cent of the NHS budget  going towards mental health services. Furthermore, the increase of awareness promoted by public figures, means more support is needed to meet the demand of those in need.

Turner said: “With this increased level of public interest and openness, there can often be a disconnect  between those services which deliver practical and therapeutic support on the front line often face responding to the increased need whilst receiving the same level of funding.”

She said: “The way we are commissioned very much governs who can access our services and how.”

The course is an hour and fifteen minutes each week, from 10am to 11:15am starting on May 21.

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