Ipswich teenage mental health clinic expands as Covid sparks rise in demand
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
An Ipswich clinic has more than doubled in size after seeing a sharp rise in teenagers with mental health problems during the coronavirus crisis.
Fiona Hannah set up Teenage Mental Health after discovering there was "nothing to help" her son, Jesper Dean, when he hit crisis point in his own life.
Yet soon after moving to bespoke premises at Coachman's Court, in Ipswich town centre, in December 2019 - allowing the psychotherapist and her team to support 150 young people - the Covid-19 crisis hit.
While it needed more space to adhere to social distancing rules, Ms Hannah said it was an expected "massive tsunami" of young people with conditions such as anxiety and depression following the pandemic which had forced its expansion.
It has now taken a "huge step up" and more than doubled in size, with capacity to look after 400 children at its new base in Lower Brook Street - with a team of 12 highly-trained and qualified staff.
“We have seen an 100% increase in enquiries in recent months," she said.
"When we moved into our first property, we expected to be there for at least three years, but within 12 months we have reached capacity, so we are moving property to meet demand."
Ms Hannah, who does not take a salary from the private clinic and puts any 'profits' back into its services, said Teenage Mental Health had organised many online therapy sessions during the pandemic.
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Yet while that has huge benefits in terms of provision, she said: "You can't open your heart on an internet connection, because you might not want to upset your mum in the next room.
"It is not suitable long-term."
As such, she believes young people desperately need services face to face - so she has invested heavily in making the new premises Covid secure, including areas where parents can wait for children.
Her main concern continues to be a lack of support for young people, who she says have been "completely overwhelmed" by the crisis.
"The service provision just isn't there and it's heartbreaking," she said.
"There are so many kids that can't afford a private service. We don't want to charge, but we have to."
While she agreed the need for restrictions has been entirely necessary in a public health emergency, she said: "To punish someone, we put them in isolation.
"Essentially we've taken a whole generation of children and put them in isolation.
"The impact on their wellbeing is massive and the government needs to invest significantly.
"It is not now that we're going to see it. In six months, 12 months, two years, we're going to see a massive tsunami.
"They've lost all the continuity of their normal lives. They have lost the structure to their day - that destabilises a child.
"Children have a lot more markers in their year, whether it's exams or school proms. They've lost them all.
"They've lost the light at the end of the tunnel. It just feels like groundhog day."
She also raised fears that many more are holding back their fears and emotions, for fear they might become an "additional burden" on their parents as they also struggle with hardship including loss of income and redundancy.
Ms Hannah added: “As an essential health and social care service, we are still open for face to face appointments with patients in need and we are strictly following the Covid-secure guidelines.
"In these new premises we will have far more space to ensure effective social distancing and to meet the current high demand for support”.
“Our philosophy at Teenage Mental Health is that the patient always comes first and is the centre of any work we do.
"In the new centre we want to create a warm, welcoming and comfortable environment for our patients.
"This new, larger centre will enable us to help even more young people in need.”
Teenage Mental Health also plans to hold a series of new support groups in the future, including one for people with eating disorders and a transgender support group.