Cumbria Crack

Mental health experts warn of COVID-19 long-term impact

Michael Boaden

Cumbrian experts will tonight (Thursday, May 21) discuss the long-term mental health effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the county in an online debate.

Organised by Kendal-based mental health charity Growing Well and supported by University of Cumbria, Carlisle Eden Mind and Cumbria CVS, the event in Mental Health Awareness Week aims to look beyond the immediate daily challenges of lockdown to examine the deeper impact that the pandemic could have on people and services in the county.

One of the panellists, Michael Boaden of Carlisle Eden Mind, is warning of a delayed, long-term trauma, similar to that which happened after foot and mouth in Cumbria in 2001, and says the very young could be deeply affected.

“At the moment there is a “perfect storm” of massively heightened stress from anxiety and uncertainty, which meets the fact that our normal coping mechanisms are not available – meeting people close to us, escaping into pleasurable external activities etc,” said Mr Boaden.

“The other key factor is that the major impacts will not happen until later – when economic impacts, real world implications strike. There is a kind of bubble effect for many people at the moment – we see it reflected in our own long-term service users, who are literally hunkering down for the duration of this bit but they will not be in that place forever.

“I think it might be a bit like foot and mouth – when the trauma was played out for many people, including very young, much later.”

Also on the panel will be Prof Brian Webster Henderson, pro vice-chancellor (health) at University of Cumbria; David Allen, chief executive of Cumbria Council for Voluntary Service; and Dr Marion Cheesbrough, chair of the farm-based mental health charity Growing Well, at Low Sizergh, near Kendal.

The debate, titled COVID-19: The Gathering Storm, and hosted by Cumbrian broadcaster Caz Graham, will take place on Zoom and be streamed live on Growing Well’s Facebook page from 7pm-7.55pm tonight. (Thursday May 21). It will be available to view afterwards.

It marks the start of a series of online debates that Growing Well plans to host every month, in partnership with voluntary, public and private sector organisations in Cumbria involved in or with an interest in mental health.

Called ‘Mental Leaps’, it promises ‘deep-dive’ conversations with experts about the future of mental health services in Cumbria.

Growing Well development manager Richard Eccles said: “We are delighted with the support we have received from panellists at quite short notice for this pilot online debate.

“We want to play a part in promoting debate, and encouraging and celebrating the knowledge sharing and partnerships that are already taking place in the county.

“We also want to look for some ‘mental leaps’ – sharing innovative ways of improving things for people with mental health problems in Cumbria.

“We had originally planned a mental health podcast this year – broadcast from our yurt at Growing Well. COVID-19 put paid to that but has thrown up the opportunity of streaming Zoom ‘meetings’ instead – so we took a mental leap ourselves and quickly pulled together this debate to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

“This first episode is an important issue for Growing Well – our farm is currently closed to our 70 volunteers but our therapeutic team is supporting them remotely, helped by an emergency grant from the Cumbria Community Foundation COVID-19 response fund.

“We are expecting a spike in referrals to us from GPs and Community Mental Health teams once the longer term effects of the pandemic feed through and we need to be geared up for that.”

To contact Growing Well about future ‘Mental Leaps’ debates please email [email protected].