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Stress and depression doubles in Suffolk due to Covid-19

PUBLISHED: 19:00 12 November 2020

Double the number of people in Suffolk have reported stress or mental health concerns as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Double the number of people in Suffolk have reported stress or mental health concerns as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Health bosses in Suffolk have urged people to make sure they have self-care measures in place, after new data revealed the number of people at the crossover of wellbeing into mental ill health or experiencing depression had doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind, urged people to think about self-care with walks and reduced screen time. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind, urged people to think about self-care with walks and reduced screen time. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk Mind carried out surveys before, during and after the first Covid-19 lockdown, and found that the number of people susceptible to stress – the crossover point between wellbeing and mental ill health – was up 46% as a result of the pandemic, while on average wellbeing declined by 11%.

Office for National Statistics data suggested that one in five adults were likely to be experiencing depression of some kind in June this year – double the one in 10 figure prior to that.

Among the biggest anxieties reported were work and careers, relationships, finances and physical health.

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The data has prompted Suffolk Mind to urge people to make sure they have self-care measures in their lives by going out for walks, getting away from screens, having meaningful projects and challenges in their life, and thanking people for everyday efforts.

Councillor Jessica Fleming said the important of freedom for people needed to be kept in mind.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCouncillor Jessica Fleming said the important of freedom for people needed to be kept in mind. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Chief executive Jon Neal also called on community spaces to be opened up safely as soon as possible when lockdown ends to help people feel a part of the community, and for employers to give staff control over their work routines.

“Whichever way you measure it, mental ill health has doubled during lockdown,” he said.

“Things are starting to recover now, and it will be interesting to see what the impact of the news of the vaccine is having on people’s mental health.

“We are continuing to not feel connected to the community, we still don’t feel like we have a status that is recognised, we still don’t feel particularly in control – that is as much about looking to the future – and we are feeling less in control of that than we have done before in normal times.

“Things are starting to improve, but that improvement is fragile.”

He added that there was a need to “communicate in an optimistic way that is still truthful”.

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There were also concerns raised about sleep deprivation, which Mr Neal said was “becoming a bit of a public health concern” after 60% of survey respondents reported that they did not feel rested after a night’s sleep.

According to Mr Neal, sleep problems was one of the early indicators for mental health issues.

Helena Jopling, public health consultant at West Suffolk Hospital said: “Being able to maintain that sense of empathy feels like one of the most important things we can do,” while councillor Jessica Fleming who chairs Suffolk County Council’s health scrutiny committee said “the importance of freedom” must also be kept in mind.

Healthwatch Suffolk carried out its own separate survey in April and May around families and young people involving nearly 5,000 respondents across four groups – 6-11 year olds, 11-19 year olds, parents and guardians, and school staff.

That work found a third felt their mental health was worse following lockdown, while 15-20% reported improved mental health and the remainder said there was no change.

Nearly half (48%) of 6-11 year olds felt more lonely compared to 40% saying there was no change and just 7% feeling less alone, while half of 11-19 year olds were negative about the return to school.

Common reasons behind the worsening mental health were a lack of social contact, increased anxiety or stress, and increased workloads or parenting responsibilities for parents.

However, some youngsters also found positives in lockdown such as more time at home and more time spent with the family, while others who may struggle socially or have been at risk of bullying also welcomed being at home.

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Research officer Luke Bacon said: “The impact is so individual and dependent on individual circumstances, but there are a few key themes where we can decrease the gap in uncertainty with what can be provided by local commissioners, schools, and where we can focus to reduce uncertainty.

“Support for vulnerable students, those from BAME communities who may already be at risk of health inequalities, people from LGBTQ+ identities who our previous research has highlighted being more at risk of mental health or emotional wellbeing difficulties anyway, and those with existing mental health disabilities.

“The impact on relationships is mixed, and I think that schools and services who support young people with their mental health and wellbeing can probably go some way to acknowledging that.

“Schools that may be aware of difficult relationships at home or difficult relationships in school such as bullying can contribute negatively to the overall impact on mental health.”


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