The Chief Executive of the charity Suicide Crisis , Joy Hibbins, has expressed concerns that the language of war used during the COVID-19 crisis may deter people in mental health crisis from seeking help. Suicide Crisis is a registered charity which runs Suicide Crisis Centres
The Government has been emphasising over the weekend that people with serious physical conditions should seek help, because they are staying away from A&E and other services. But there is evidence that people who are suffering severe mental ill health may need just as much encouragement to seek help currently. Clients in mental health crisis are telling us that they “don’t want to burden the NHS” at this time.
Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis is being presented as a war-like situation. There is a sense in which we are all trying to pull together in the national interest and in particular to defeat the virus. For some people, that will help create a feeling of unity and shared purpose. However, some people may feel that they are “letting the side down” if they acknowledge that they are struggling and need help.
There are lots of references to being “strong”. If we are all feeling that we need to be strong, then it can make it harder to seek help – or show vulnerability. People can start to have feelings of guilt and shame about being in crisis.
We believe that there is a need for greater national recognition and acknowledgment of the “extreme mental suffering” which is being caused by lockdown. This is being compounded by the fact that the COVID-19 crisis means that fewer psychiatric staff are available, and community mental health services are operating at a reduced level. People who are technically under those services are seeking help from us instead because they are receiving a reduced service.
We provide a 24-hour crisis service. Our concern is that not all regions have alternative crisis services like ours.
As well as seeing clients in suicidal crisis, we are seeing an increase in people having thoughts of self-harm. Some of them tell us that they have not self-harmed for years. They are also considering using methods which carry a greater risk of serious injury or death than methods they have used in the past.
When lockdown started, we were seeing people who were already in a depressive episode whose symptoms were worsening. Now we are seeing the “newly depressed”, for example a young woman who feels that she has only started to become depressed since lockdown began. She told us that she had enjoyed a fulfilling life which included extremely meaningful voluntary work, as well as access to a number of mental health support groups and activities. All of that had instantly disappeared. She felt completely isolated, and felt that she had lost her purpose in life. Within a space of a few weeks, she had deteriorated to such an extent that she was contemplating suicide. She is now receiving support from our team.
Unsurprisingly, people who have experienced past trauma have been severely affected by lockdown. Lockdown can replicate the circumstances of the original trauma: feelings of powerlessness, loss of control or indeed of feeling trapped or imprisoned. It can feel unbearable.
Joy Hibbins is the CEO of the charity Suicide Crisis and author of “Suicide Prevention Techniques: How A Suicide Crisis Service Saves Lives”