Charities report surge in use of helplines during pandemic

Numerous UK organisations are seeing an increase in requests for help, through phone lines, text services, webchat and email.

A report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week (June 15) shows that 37%, equivocal to 19 million adults, are reporting high levels of anxiety; this peaked during the first week of lockdown at 49%, a sharp rise from 21% at the end of 2019.

Samaritans have estimated that a third of the calls received via its 24-hour helpline are related to Coronavirus, and PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide reports that 90% of its HELPLINEUK callers discuss the pandemic. From January – May, the NSPCC counselled over 7,000 children with specifically Coronavirus related worries; there is a clear need for support at this time, and it appears that all ages are being profoundly affected.

A spectrum of charities, offering support on a wide range of issues, describe patterns which are clearly reflected in the ONS’ latest findings.

Loneliness has been cited across the board as a significant component of the current crisis. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions are particularly at risk, with 69% feeling their mental health is deteriorating while they are unable to see loved ones (according to a recent report by Rethink Mental Illness).

Children have also been impacted by rising anxiety – visits to the NSPCCs Calmzone site, which offers young people tips and advice when dealing with stress, have more than quadrupled since the pandemic began. In a media statement, PAPYRUS acknowledges the additional pressure that Coronavirus has put on the young people who rely on its services, noting that ‘anxiety, depression and panic attacks are increasingly common.’

The majority of helplines observed widespread concern over basic necessities and job security. As the number of people claiming unemployment benefits has soared to over 2 million, worries over finances have become prevalent themes. Stress over housing and food supplies have increased, and students expressed anxiety over cancelled exams and insecurities about the future.

For most, the problems are beyond just financial; many people say they can no longer access the services they need, in particular Mental Health support. Rethink Mental Illness stated that this applied to 47% of those surveyed with pre-existing conditions, and it appears that the strain is hitting already overburdened helpline services and charities.

Many charities have set up Emergency Appeals to help expand and maintain their crucial facilities, but the challenges are unprecedented, particularly while adaptions must be made around lockdown measures. The NSPCC has been forced to cancel its nightline for children, with a 30% drop in volunteers, and some are having to invest in additional equipment, despite operating at a lower capacity, in order to maintain safe working environments.

For victims of domestic abuse, the stakes are life-threatening. Refuge, a leading charity for sufferers of domestic abuse has reported an overwhelming 950% increase in traffic on its site since the start of lockdown, with an average weekly increase in calls of 66%.

As the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill reaches Committee stage this week, the charity, which provides the National Domestic Abuse Helpline among many other specialist services, is doing everything it can to ensure that legislation meets the specific needs of victims, many of whom are currently trapped. In a statement released last week, Ellie Butt, head of policy and public affairs at Refuge, said: ‘Coming at a time when Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline has experienced more demand than ever, the need for specialist domestic abuse services has never been greater. Refuge hopes the Government will use this opportunity to introduce real, lasting change’.

It is frankly amazing that despite the logistical challenges of operating during a pandemic, with many staff forced to self-isolate, the majority of charities continue to operate at or above pre-lockdown levels.

Samaritans support over 7,000 people every day; during the lockdown, they have launched a new bespoke NHS and social care support line, providing assistance specifically for Keyworkers.

Simon Hicks is the Yeovil and Sherbourne district and branch director and has been a Samaritan volunteer for two years. During the pandemic he has been volunteering for the NHS emotional support line, he told New Start: ‘Isolation and loneliness is one of the key reasons that NHS workers call the support line. A lot of them are self-isolating to protect family members while they are working on the frontline, so at the end of a shift they are heading back to a hotel room and they just need someone to talk to.

‘The helpline offers them a space to talk things through, and is part of ‘Our Frontline’ a collaborative set of services for the wellbeing of key workers.’

Mental Health UK has also launched www.clic-uk.org, a monitored online support community, where those suffering poor mental health can share with others through their forums. Most have dedicated web pages for Coronavirus, with regularly updated information, tips and signposts for services.

Whilst we should absolutely applaud these incredible organisations, they are clearly under immense strain, and it is imperative for the health of society that they continue to receive support.

Should you be seeking help from any of the charities mentioned, or wish to donate/volunteer, you can access website links below: Samaritans PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide, NSPCC, Rethink Mental Illness, Refuge,  and Mental Health UK.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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