Calls to police and specialist services about mental health have almost doubled in Manchester while people have been isolated at home, prompting the leader of the city council to call for a more balanced and proportionate approach to lockdown.
Sir Richard Leese, who heads Manchester city council and is also deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, said the government needed a new strategy to tackle outbreaks which “brings into play mental health and other health risks including those caused by poverty and economic inactivity, and one that allows the economy to fully function”.
Greater Manchester has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the UK. Calls to three crisis helplines set up in response to the pandemic have increased significantly in the last few months. The Greater Manchester Mental Health Foundation’s helpline received 2,168 calls in July compared with 1,187 in April.
Greater Manchester police (GMP) said they too had experienced a significant increase in “mental health demand”. Ch Supt Umer Khan said: “We are grateful to the majority of people within Greater Manchester who have followed guidelines to help reduce the spread of Covid-19, however these restrictions have had an impact on many people’s mental health, both those with pre-existing conditions and those who have not struggled with their mental health before.
“Police officers are often the first point of contact for people going through a mental health crisis. Since February 2020 we have seen a 42% increase in mental health demand coming into GMP. It is important that these people have immediate access to the right help and support.
“GMP has worked with partners to train thousands of officers in how to deal with people with various mental health conditions and help direct individuals to the support they need.”
Manchester recorded 47.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the week of 10-16 August, the seventh-highest infection rate in England. Nearby Oldham had more than double that rate, with 103.1 cases per 100,000 in the same time period.
Leese said very few people were dying of Covid in the region, but “presentations of people with mental health issues … have soared, as has the number of people suffering from the state of the economy”.
In a blogpost he wrote: “I’ve become increasingly concerned that health ministers are looking at the health crisis purely through the narrow window of Covid-19, and not more broadly through the whole range of Covid-related issues that will now probably have a far greater impact on people’s life expectancy and wellbeing.
“We have to continue to take sensible measures particularly around hygiene and social distancing. We have to protect our citizens who are more vulnerable. We have to be ready for the potential of more deadly outbreaks as we head towards winter.
“However, with what we know now, we also need a new, more balanced and proportionate approach, one that brings into play mental health and other health risks including those caused by poverty and economic inactivity, and one that allows the economy to fully function.”
Along with those in parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester’s 2.8 million residents have been subject to stricter restrictions than the rest of England since 31 July following an increase in cases. The rules, which stop people visiting friends or family in their homes or gardens or inside a pub or cafe, were lifted on Friday in Wigan, Rossendale and parts of Darwen but kept in place everywhere else. They were tightened in Oldham and parts of Blackburn and Pendle.
A spokesman for the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said: “When the Covid-19 restrictions where put in place in April we initially saw a fall in demand for mental health service. However, demand slowly increased and we are now seeing a surge in people contacting services.
“Three crisis helplines were mobilised in Greater Manchester as a direct response to the pandemic, serving as a first point of contact for many in distress or with concerns about their mental health. All the helplines have seen a significant increase in traffic during the last few months.”
Greater Manchester residents can access digital mental health services including SilverCloud, an online self-help mental health support platform; Shout, a 24/7 all-age crisis text messaging service; and Kooth, an online counselling and wellbeing platform for young people that has been used 4,302 times in its first three months of service.