Speaking out on mental health in Newcastle despite Labour's gagging attempt

Dr Wendy TaylorThere is no doubt that the COVID 19 epidemic has had serious detrimental effects on mental health, Councillor Dr Wendy Taylor had intended to say to Newcastle City Council tonight. But the Labour Administration rushed through a suspension of standing orders so Liberal Democrats were unable to speak out on this vital issue.

Dr Taylor would have continued : Figures from the ONS have exposed the enormous mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis and show that in the North East an estimated 83.4% of adults have reported feeling stressed, anxious or worried about the future or that their mental health has become worse since April.

Being isolated and in lockdown has badly affected those residents who already had mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive behaviour or agoraphobia. But detrimental mental health impacts have also affected many bereaved families, whose lives will never be the same again; those in isolation, those in recovery, and those facing new financial strain due to reduced income or loss of work. The link between poverty and mental health has been recognised for many years and we know that In general, people living in financial hardship are at increased risk of mental health problems and lower mental wellbeing. It is also clear that people in the lowest socioeconomic groups have worse mental health, so the current crisis is likely to exacerbate social inequality.

I have spoken to several residents in my ward whose husbands have died in the last few months. Although most of these deaths were not from COVID, women are having to cope with losing their long-term partner without the support of family and friends, not being able to hold a normal funeral and having to live alone, sometimes for the first time in their lives. It's heart-breaking.

Many young people are also facing mental health problems for the first time and we know that what happens now could have a lasting impact on their mental health, for years to come. The stress could be due to traumatic experiences at home, the pressures of isolation, a breakdown in their support or the loss of certainty about their future education and job prospects.

We have also seen a rise in domestic violence due to lockdown and isolation. Being unable to leave your home for several months can only make difficult relationships even worse.

And many people who have been self-isolating for months may find it very stressful and traumatic trying to leave their home and resume their normal activities. They will also need support.

Many NHS services have been put on hold to allow staff to concentrate on tackling the epidemic and this will include mental health services. We now need to make sure people who have had to wait to get the support they need are now seen quickly and given rapid access to treatment

So Newcastle City Council need to call on the Government to act now to ensure people can access vital mental health support, and that local authorities and NHS trusts have the funding they need to deliver that support now and in the long term. This must include better funded, clearly signposted mental health support for every single community, to reach those who are isolated or in hard-to-reach groups. We also need extra help for schools and professionals to support young people with their mental health during and after the pandemic and a commitment to introducing additional support for young people's mental health beyond the pandemic to tackle the anticipated rise in mental health needs.

But there's also more the Council can do-making sure everyone has access to good quality open space near their home, supporting volunteers, such as the befriending services, who have doing so much to help in the last 3 months, encouraging schools to invest in resources to help give children more self-confidence and resilience and working with the mental health trust and the voluntary sector to maximise support for vulnerable residents.

Liberal Democrats believe that mental and physical health should have full parity. At this time of national crisis, both local and central Government need to make sure they are doing everything possible to give mental health services the priority and resources that are so desperately needed.

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