Loneliness is causing mental health problems in Torbay to rocket as we come out of the COVID crisis.
The Torbay Community Helpline has taken a steady stream of calls from people complaining of loneliness and isolation since the crisis began, exacerbating an already serious problem.
So far, more than 600 people have contacted the Helpline with mental health issues. From there, they are triaged depending on their need. Some are referred to specialist services, others onto courses and specialist befrienders contact some.
Jane Eastwood ,who manages the Helpline mental health service stressed the importance of recognising loneliness as a trigger of mental health issues:”: Most of us have felt lonely at times in our lives.
Moving to a new area, starting new schools, bereavements, breakdown of relationships and poor health are some of our experiences that can lead to loneliness.
“A stigma remains around admitting that we feel lonely, and although this is not limited to social isolation, feeling isolated from others can increase these feelings.
“Loneliness negatively impacts both our emotional and physical health. Acknowledging our feelings and connecting with others who support our wellbeing in a positive way can start to improve how we live our lives.”
This week (May 9th -16th) is Mental Health Awareness Week with a focus on loneliness and helping people overcome it using the hashtag ‘#Ivebeenthere’, a phrase that is instantly recognisable to Amanda (not her real name).
The 38-year-old from Paignton first became lonely when she spent long spells in hospital undergoing several open-heart surgeries as a child. She thought she had learned to combat loneliness by being independent.
But as she grew older, she realised that although she often enjoyed her own company, she also often felt lonely and she began to rely on alcohol more and more to get through, particularly after a sexual assault left her traumatised.
“For a year after the assault my mind blocked out what had happened, but I was turning to alcohol more often. Then my brain decided to share what had really happened, which led to ten years of me seemingly attempting to drink myself to death,” she recalled.
“I am also pretty sure that if it had not been for my heart condition, I would also have tried drugs, and if I had, I would not be here today.
With the drinking, it got to the stage when I was again in hospital and I heard someone talking about kidney failure, and whilst that did not happen, I decided there and then that I didn’t want to die.”
But she found she had a lot of ground to make up. Drinking friends that were leaning on her whilst she had nowhere to turn. And then COVID struck.
“Seeing no one, except my mum, from week to week was horrible and gave me lots of time to think about my life and where I was. One thing I knew for certain and that was that I was lonely and that was dreadful.”
As her mental health deteriorated and she was passed from pillar to post by health professionals who only wanted to treat one aspect of her mental health, she discovered the HOPE programme.
HOPE stands for Help Overcoming Problems Effectively, a course run by Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust to help people learn how to manage their mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression, better.
Now she has a network of friends and people she can call is about to start as a specialist befriender and is looking forward to helping others: “I have learned a lot about myself, both self taught and through the group and I know I can help others going through similar things.
“Most importantly, you do not have to be lonely. You are not alone and your mental health need not suffer. Just reach out.”
If you need help with mental health or want to offer help as a specialist befriender, please contact the Torbay Community Helpline on 01803 446022.
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