Council works to tackle mental health impact of pandemic as assessment of need prioritised

Camden Town Hall.

The Town Hall is prioritising an assessment of the demand for mental health services in its work to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing of the community at large.

It is hoped the assessment, which is being worked on in the coming weeks, will allow the council to identify and better understand the new unmet need amongst residents, with a communications plan also planned in a bid to make it easier to access help for those who need it.

Councillors quizzed the administration and officers this week on the support available for specific or hard-to-reach communities, with demand for aid amongst carers working to look after their family members while many of them are isolated themselves said to be leaving services “overwhelmed,” according to health chief Cllr Pat Callaghan.

Callaghan said: “The potential consequences of this pandemic on mental health are considerable.

“Lockdown restrictions are necessary to control the virus, but the enforced social isolation, the now obvious and expanded health inequalities, people fearful of going about their daily lives and normality has been disrupted – this has all had a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing.

“Life as we know it is completely turned on its head, and work to look at how this has impacted on our community resident engagement has been going on throughout the pandemic.”

Data from Camden’s child and adolescent mental health services shows that during the first lockdown between April and June of last, there were just over 1,300 children and young people accessing mental health and wellbeing support, a 5.5 per cent increase on the same period last year.

The monthly average referrals was 121 in the first six months of 2020, slightly less than the same period for 2019, with a council report pointing out that pupils with mental health needs would usually be referred by schools which had been closed, and that the national focus on health shifted last year to physical health and infection control.

Officers have cited new national research predicting that 6 per cent of children and young people will experience new post-traumatic stress disorder, and that 20 per cent will experience new depression during the pandemic, which could result in up to 20,000 new cases, of which up to 7,000 would likely seek services, with CAMHS clinicians reporting that the complexity of mental health referrals has escalated during lockdown.

The data from the Town Hall’s adult mental health services show an increase in need reported by community groups and providers, though some commissioned services are showing fewer referrals than pre-pandemic. Referrals for NHS services are on the rise, however, with the council predicting an increased demand in 2021/22.

In a meeting this week, councillors sought answers on the services available for a number of cohorts, including Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, older people, children, carers, private renters, those living in uncertain housing situations, families with disabled children, and LGBT people.

It was revealed at the meeting that eating disorders across North Central London have “become much more prevalent,” with assistant director of public health Sue Hogarth confirming her team are rolling out training for residents and staff for how to talk about mental health issues, enabling frontline and general staff to be more aware about what services are available, with work ongoing to try to reduce the stigma around seeking aid.

Cllr Larraine Revah said: “There are many carers out there who are suffering mental health issues but don’t necessarily know it.

“They are struggling to deal with everyday problems with the loved one they are caring for. How do we reach out to those carers, and Camden Carers have told me that the influx of people with mental health is so high that something needs to give.

“It’s a question about what Camden is doing about that I’d be interested in.”

Executive director on support people for Camden Martin Pratt said: “We recognise the additional pressures as some carers are also extremely clinically vulnerable so are isolating themselves.

“We are maintaining contact with those who are already in touch, but the council’s hotline is available for all Camden residents who are seeking help and support at this time.

“All Camden residents are in a situation at the moment where to different degrees they are having an ordinary response to an extaordinary set of circumstances. People’s mental wellbeing is under pressure.

“There will be people on this call this evening whose mental wellbeing is under pressure, so we need to be very clear in our communications, both with people who we already have lines to but also those who are feeling isolated that they know they can come to the council and either work with our voluntary sector to provide support or we will provide appropriate advice and support.”

You can find out more about local mental health support here:

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