More than twelve months on from the UK’s first lockdown in 2020, Samaritans has urged the government to prioritise suicide prevention in its coronavirus recovery strategy for the ongoing protection of the nation’s wellbeing.
How Has Coronavirus Affected the Nation’s Mental Health?
Research conducted by Samaritans uncovers just how deeply the nation’s mental health has been affected by the pandemic. A report shows a fifth of calls for help to Samaritans over the past year have referenced coronavirus.
However, Samaritans volunteers maintain that every caller has been impacted by the pandemic in some way.
The callers who have referenced the pandemic expressed concern over access to mental health services and other related practical implications caused by lockdown as well as the knock-on effects of the pandemic such as social isolation, the breakdown of relationships, income loss and other financial stresses.
The latest figures released by the mental health charity also reveal that since the onset of social distancing restrictions in March, Samaritans volunteers have spent upwards of 920,000 hours supporting callers who are struggling to cope during the pandemic.
A recurring concern amongst men who call Samaritans’ helpline is the economic impact of the pandemic. These men have frequently discussed feelings of trepidation and uncertainty about the future, ranging from losing their standard of living to job loss and redundancy.
Samaritans’ listening volunteer, Sam, experienced these difficulties first-hand when he was made redundant at the start of lockdown and has spoken with lots of men who are facing the same.
“I lost the career I have spent the last 40 years developing and knowing that there is very little chance of getting it back as the industry has been so decimated is something I really struggled to come to terms with. I’ve heard from a lot of men in a similar position who for them this traditional viewpoint of being the breadwinner still exists and who speak of how useless they feel and this sense of being a failure for not being able to support their family. But I’m really thankful that I’ve had the support of my Samaritans’ branch and volunteering throughout this time has really given me a sense of purpose during the pandemic.”Steve, samaritans listening volunteer
Work and employment have been impacted massively by the pandemic, with millions losing their jobs or experiencing income decreases during the past year. This poses a significant threat for middle-aged men, who are already the most at-risk group for suicide and are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of financial instability.
“As we start to look beyond lockdown, we are concerned about the long-term impact on mental health. The pressures from the pandemic are likely to continue for some time, particularly if we face the widely predicted economic downturn, which we know can impact suicide rates. We must strengthen our efforts on suicide prevention, embed it across all areas of policy and create practical initiatives that seek to support vulnerable individuals at every opportunity – whether that is training frontline staff in Job Centres on suicide awareness or by creating specific schemes that provide financial security to those facing loss of income or job loss in the wake of the pandemic.”Jacqui Morrissey, Samaritans Assistant Director of research and influencing
Although each of us have faced challenges as a result of coronavirus, research from across the mental health sector shows society’s most vulnerable group has been impacted disproportionately.
Research conducted by Samaritans shows young people are one of the core groups that have experienced adverse effects as a result of the pandemic and the subsequent social distancing measured. Losing contact with their peers, a lack of access to coping mechanisms and general uncertainty about the future are amongst a number of other issues raised by young people during calls to Samaritans.
Jacqui Morrissey added:
“Much more needs to be done to support young people if we are to future-proof their mental health and prevent them from carrying a higher suicide risk into their adult lives. But this requires systemic change to ensure barriers to support are removed and that those who self-harm stop falling through the gaps in the support services.
“Suicide is not inevitable, it is preventable, but we have to ensure the right support is available to these groups most at risk of suicide before they reach crisis point – which includes supporting the third sector so it can continue to play an integral role with community-led services and support for vulnerable groups.”Jacqui Morrissey, Samaritans Assistant Director of Research and Influencing
Samaritans’ Support Throughout the Pandemic
Samaritans saw a 30% reduction in its volunteer workforce at the beginning of the first lockdown because of shielding restrictions, however, the charity has maintained a 24/7 service throughout the pandemic regardless of this.
Samaritans attributes its uninterrupted service to the incredible efforts and dedication of its volunteers.
* Volunteer insights are based on 6 surveys with Samaritans listening volunteers carried out between April 2020 and January 2021. Findings of the surveys cover the period of first nine months of the coronavirus restrictions (March – December 2020).
This article was originally published by Samaritans.