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'People are feeling more pressure' - rise in mental ill health forces 'Night Owls' helpline to expand

Suffolk Night Owls, run by Suffolk Mind, provides support over phone, text and email. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Suffolk Night Owls, run by Suffolk Mind, provides support over phone, text and email. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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A "Night Owls" phone, text and email helpline is to expand to seven days a week to help cope with rising mental ill health in Suffolk.

Mental health charity Suffolk Mind originally set up the support service for people with borderline personality disorders.

But since expanding Suffolk Night Owls' four day a week services to all those with complex emotional needs, the demand for it has grown to 4,500 calls, texts and emails a year.

Not all of those are distress calls - Suffolk Night Owls works primarily with long-term clients who will keep in regular touch, even messaging to talk about good days and achievements.

Yet with many callers having to leave voicemail messages when Suffolk Night Owls is not operating, Suffolk's clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have decided to fund the service to run all week.

Helen Shenton, borderline personality disorder service manager at Suffolk Mind, said: "The clients calling us were saying they want a seven day a week service.

"We get quite a lot of regular callers. The line has got busier and busier.

"Because there are limited other resources for this type of thing, people hear about it and want to use the service.

"We see that people are feeling more pressure and social media especially is putting a lot of pressure on young people, so there's a possible correlation between the changing of the times and a rise in mental ill health.

"It can be absolutely everything from relationship breakdown, money or from day-to-day struggles.

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"Suffolk Mind's ethos is about making Suffolk the best place for dealing with mental health and we aim to do that with every one of our services.

"It is brilliant that we have managed to secure this funding. It shows the demand is there."

Those using Suffolk Night Owls have to be pre-registered, which organisers say allows them to "offer a personalised and tailored service to individuals who are seeking support in times of need".

Becky Attwater, deputy manager of Suffolk Night Owls, said: "Suffolk Night Owls gives people an opportunity to talk about their feelings and daily struggles, providing a safe space for people to just be themselves in a non-judgemental environment where they are heard and, where needed, offered advice and signposting."

One person who uses the service said in an evaluation carried out by Suffolk County Council: "Since using Suffolk Night Owls I have had no need to seek any other support. Not only are they there when I'm feeling suicidal, I can talk with them as a safety mechanism.

"This means if I am experiencing a really bad day, instead of doing what comes naturally by self-harming or self-medicating, I know I can speak to someone."

Jon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind, added: "The review of mental health services in Suffolk identified the need to expand Suffolk Night Owls.

"We are grateful to them for increasing our funding to allow us to provide this much valued service seven nights a week.

"We want to help as many people as possible to look after themselves and those around them.

"We're aiming to prevent periods of serious mental ill health as much as possible, so that the stretched resources of the NHS can be there when people need them most."

For more information about Suffolk Night Owls, click here.

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