How Covid and Brexit are creating a mental health crisis

VULNERABLE people are at risk of being plunged into crisis this Christmas as a combination of crippling economic factors coalesce, affecting those most in need, a charity has warned.

Disadvantaged communities across the North-East, struggling from a decade of austerity measures, are experiencing high job losses stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty surrounding the real possibility of a ‘no deal Brexit’.

With dark nights now upon us and winter drawing in, charities have warned it is creating a ‘perfect storm’ for extreme poverty, as well as a mental health timebomb.

East Durham Trust, which runs a food bank in Peterlee, has already seen a 400 per cent rise in the need for crisis services during lockdown and expects that, by December, the long term impact of the pandemic will see this rise even higher.

Chief executive Graham Easterlow said: “It is going to be very, very difficult over the next few months on a number of levels.

“As we come out of furlough and enter another period of economic instability, and as we head towards what is looking like a hard Brexit, the impact will really start to bite.

“People in hardship have lost their community connections, and the ability go activities and sessions with their families, friends and children.

“The next crisis will be a mental health crisis and there is a lack of services to deal with that.”

The Northern Echo:

Graham Easterlow, of East Durham Trust

As Government schemes, such as furlough, end and ongoing restrictions continue to stymie the economy the trust predicts that Christmas will present a ‘never before seen’ need for their services.

Mr Easterlow said: “What Covid and lockdown has done is pushed people who were just about managing off the edge into crisis and we have seen a huge spike in need.

“It is not just about in hunger, and food provision but also in debt, welfare mental ill health and poor physical health.

“Some people have lost their jobs and are now in dire straits.

“There are so many different factors which will cause damage over the next few months.

“Our region has one of the highest suicide rates in England, and people are tired. You can see that people are tired. People are tired of the ever-changing sets of rules and guidance.

“It brings confusion and fear and causes a sense of paralysis.”

The charity is focussing on the prevention of poverty in the former mining communities it serves and runs a range of services including a food bank, welfare, debt advice and holiday activities.

The charity’s food parcel service relies heavily on donations to meet the ever increasing demand and is always looking for more supplies and volunteers, especially drivers, to help out.

The Northern Echo:

Easington MP Grahame Morris said: “We must prepare for a difficult winter.

“Christmas is already the busiest time of the year for our local food bank, but with Covid, the end of the furlough scheme and the decision by the Government to discontinue the holiday hunger programme, many families will be struggling.

“East Durham Trust is a vital lifeline in our community, and their support and services have never been in greater demand.

“If we are to protect the most vulnerable in our community this winter, I ask anyone who can, please donate to East Durham Trust.

“Every donation is greatly appreciated and can mean the difference between a child eating or going hungry this Christmas.”

Benevolent volunteers in the former steel community of Consett have also had to rethink how they can help people who are struggling this Christmas.

Every year the Salvation Army organises a children’s toy appeal to distribute to needy families so youngsters do not have to go without on December 25.

This year they have had to start early and take extra precautions to ensure they are done in a Covid-safe manner.

The Northern Echo:

Church leader Major Ian McCredie said: “This year, we are expecting the number of families requesting help to rise as a result of the pandemic’s impact on already tight family budgets.

“Last year, we supported some 156 families, amounting to 364 children, with toys and already we’ve started receiving requests for support ahead of Christmas.”

Elsewhere in the region, another established charity is also preparing for Christmas to help those who are hungry and living on the streets.

Jackie Boardman, a trustee of The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle, said: “Christmas will be very different this year for our “friends” and our volunteers. “We help more than 150 people every meal time and as a lot of other services are closing down for Christmas that puts a lot more pressure on us.

“Our main concerns are that the demand for our service is increasing while donations are sadly dropping as people struggle to cope with the effects of Covid and rising unemployment.

“We know we can’t have our traditional sit-down Christmas lunch but we are looking at alternatives like food hampers and a takeaway service on Christmas Day.

“We will also be increasing the number of welfare calls we do to people during the day over the festive period.

“We know that Christmas can be a very lonely time so we want people to know we will be there for them.”

The Northern Echo | Durham