What practical role do helplines play in supporting people when mental health problems come to a head? Solidarity in a Crisis (SIAC) is one such service, operating an out-of-hours crisis helpline in South London. Carolin Sternecker is a Peer Supporter with the service and has been supporting callers during the Covid-19 lockdown.
All sorts of people are calling us right now; different ages, men and women, people who have had previous mental health issues and people who haven’t. Most of the calls are about the consequence of the lockdown rather than fear of the virus itself. Isolation is the biggest challenge and it’s causing a great deal of anxiety.
"Sometimes people are ready for advice and sometimes they just want someone to listen."
People are lonely and missing friends, family and workmates. We operate the helpline in the evenings and weekends because this is when people are most likely to feel overwhelmed and experience a mental health crisis. Our callers range from feeling anxious to suicidal.
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I know from SIAC’s monthly report that calls to the helpline are up over 80% compared to January this year and that the biggest increase is from younger people and men. So many people are overwhelmed by worries about housing, jobs and money, and all their usual support systems have broken down. Not being able to get out to socialise or participate in activities is a real problem. If you are stuck in London in a flat with no garden or balcony and you are frightened to leave the house because you have an underlying health issue – plus no one can visit – it’s very hard.
Not getting on with people we live with is also a problem. I recently took a call from a woman who had moved into a new shared house before the lockdown and now she feels stuck with a group of strangers. Lockdown is also proving a problem for couples living together where things aren’t working out – a situation made so much worse because they can’t let off steam in the usual ways, for example meeting friends or going to the gym. I have certainly noticed more domestic violence calls – affecting both men and women.
Developing confidence and knowledge
My job is to listen and reassure and then signpost people to other specialist services such as domestic abuse or substance abuse charities. Sometimes people are ready for advice and sometimes they just want someone to listen. Speaking with someone who has lived experience helps support recovery by giving hope. Lived experience provides peer-supporters with the empathy and knowledge required to help someone navigate statutory and other support services. By bearing witness to what individuals are going through and sharing experiences, we help develop confidence and knowledge of support services. Our approach encourages people to speak without having to monitor their language or feel there is a doctor-patient hierarchy.
We also reassure our callers that it's ‘ok not to be ok' and encourage people to contact friends, family and support services if they feel like they would benefit from a little extra help. We are still working hard to reduce the stigma that accompanies feelings of needing support with mental health.
If they are ready, the most common piece of advice I am giving right now is encouraging people to commit to a daily routine which includes regular exercise and a consistent sleep routine. So many people feel they have nothing to get up for but having a routine can make a real difference, providing purpose and focus.”
Run by Certitude, Solidarity in a Crisis is a peer-led initiative with a confidential helpline to support those experiencing a mental health crisis. The helpline is freephone: 0300 123 1922, text 07889756083 and is open Monday to Friday 6.00pm – 12.00am, Saturday and Sunday 12.00pm – 12.00am.
Certitude is an adult social care provider for people in London living with learning disabilities, autism, mental health support needs and their families and carers. They support over 1,600 people in 14 London boroughs.
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