Mental health and support during times of Covid-19

Mental Health and Support if Contemplating Suicide

By local MSP Kenneth Gibson

Thankfully, we survived “Blue Monday.”

The third Monday in January is reportedly the most depressing day of the year, and it’s easy to see why. The festive period feels long gone, but the nights are still dark and often wild. Many of us feel unmotivated, have broken resolutions, and payday still feels far away.

The idea of Blue Monday does not hold up against suicide rates, which remain steady throughout the year with a slight peak in spring and early summer. Nevertheless, this is an extraordinarily difficult time for many people, and the continuing impact of Covid-19 and lockdown only serve to exacerbate an already difficult month. As we fight the second wave of the virus, it’s important to remember those who are depressed and possibly suicidal at any time of the year.

COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out across Scotland. Despite this, it can be hard not to feel demoralised; as if we are moving in the wrong direction. We have been navigating these “unprecedented times” for almost a year now, and the seemingly endless situation can make us forget just how much a toll it takes on all of us. It is vital, therefore, to start from a place of kindness and understanding towards others and especially towards yourself.

Since April 2020, the Scottish Government has run the “Clear Your Head” campaign, aiming to help people care for their own mental health and wellbeing during and after the pandemic. The campaign recognises the impact of lockdown and provides practical advice on coping with the current restrictions. This may take the form of creating a routine, making efforts to stay in touch with friends, or exercising outside. Although designed with coronavirus restrictions in mind, much of the advice is relevant at any time you might feel low, anxious or overwhelmed.

Of course, so much mental health advice is familiar, simple, and what many would consider to be “common sense.” It can feel glib to tell someone who is struggling to go for a walk or speak to a friend. These suggestions are not a magic wand. They will not solve serious problems overnight. However, they can be helpful in providing a sense of perspective and getting through those most difficult moments.

So often when times are hard, life becomes about survival. We take things day by day, hour by hour, or even minute by minute when we have to. Over time, with healthy habits and coping mechanisms, we find ourselves more able to deal with what life throws at us, and hopefully work towards a situation where we can thrive, not just survive.

It is not yet clear what the lasting effect of the pandemic will be on suicide, or on mental health in general. However, mental health support groups and organisations have seen a huge rise in demand for their services. There is anecdotal evidence of an increase in mental health presentations and expression of suicidal ideation in the community through police callouts and crisis helplines.

The Scottish Government has provided additional funding to increase the capacity of the NHS 24 Mental Health Hub telephone support; the capacity of Breathing Space, further developed online services and extended the availability of digital therapies. It continues to support research to help us better understand the nature of suicide and suicidal ideations, with appropriate representation of community services and stakeholders.

The reasons people are driven to suicide are complex and hugely varied. Social, psychological, and cultural factors can all interact to lead a person to suicidal thoughts or behaviour. It is not always possible to understand or even recognise what someone is thinking or feeling, whether they are going through a crisis or seem outwardly to be absolutely fine.

The Scottish Government recognises the need for a multifaceted approach to suicide prevention. As well as promoting and improving mental health for all, we must recognise that there are groups which are particularly vulnerable to suicide. These groups include young and middle-aged men, those who have been through a relationship breakdown, and LGBT people.

Those people in the most deprived 10% of society are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than the least deprived 10%. Alongside mental health and suicide prevention groups, Scottish Ministers are working to raise public awareness and improve crisis support services for at these risk groups.

Lockdown, limitations in freedoms and social contact, illness and – for many people – grief, have challenged us all hugely over the past 10 months or so. Now, locked down in the depths of winter, it is understandable that some feel hopeless.

As difficult as it may be, we must remember that the sacrifices being made won’t last forever. We are on course to vaccinate all of Scotland’s over-80s by the beginning of February and expect to have extended this to all over-50s by the end of May.

The summer months feel far away to many of us, but as the first signs of longer days inch into view, there is indeed light at the end of this tunnel.

The First Minister quoted Seamus Heaney in a speech earlier this month, and I think it bears repeating.

“If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.

If you or someone close to you is experiencing a mental health crisis and you already receive support, phone your GP or care team in the first instance. If you can’t talk to them, call 111 to speak to NHS24.

If feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and speak to someone you trust – a friend, a family member or your GP. Or you may find it easier to call a free helpline like those below:

NHS24 Mental Hub – 111

Breathing Space – 0800 83 85 87 (Mon – Thurs 6pm – 2am and Fri 6pm – Mon 6am)

Samaritans – 116 123

Shout 24/7 crisis text service – 85258

If you are worried that someone you know may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, information on how to support them can be found at https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mental-health/suicide-information#offering-support-to-someone-whos-feeling-suicidal

SAMH (Scottish Association of Mental Health) seeks to provide practical advice for those suffering from suicidal thoughts https://www.samh.org.uk/