Mental Health Helplines Overwhelmed During Recession

May 21, 2012 Updated: May 30, 2012
 Mental health charity Mind' info line
Mental health charity Mind's Infoline offers information on types of mental health problems, where to get help, drug and alternative treatments and advocacy. (Courtesy of Mind)

Rising unemployment and economic uncertainty has caused an increase in helpline calls to a leading UK mental health charity, which is struggling to cope with the huge demand.

Since the start of the recession, enquiries to mental health charity Mind’s Infoline and legal advice service have doubled. In 2011-2012 advisers dealt with 40,000 phone calls and e-mail enquiries about where to seek mental health care, advice about medications, and the rights of patients in psychiatric hospitals. Yet the helplines are too stretched to handle the volume of calls, with 40 per cent going unanswered.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, is concerned that sufficient resources are lacking to deal with every cry for help. “The era of austerity shows little sign of abating and more and more people need our help. At the same time the local Mind network is facing the challenging situation of increased demand for services and potential cuts to funding,” he said in a statement.

Highlighting the problem during Mental Health Awareness week, Farmer said that the weekday Infoline, which is funded by donations, needs an additional adviser to meet the growing demand from the public. “We urge people to support Mind in any way they can,” he said.

Many users of the Infoline find the service invaluable. One anonymous caller said in an e-mail: “Thank you so much for your help, you are an absolute angel. I knew you would be able to point me in the right direction because I called last year when I was experiencing depression and feeling suicidal and you really helped me.”

Service user Sandra said after being treated for cancer and depression, “I believe the help and support I received from Tyneside Mind played a major part in my recovery.”

Mental health charity Mind.
Ad for mental health charity Mind campaign. (Courtesy of Mind)

Another mental health charity, SANE, is feeling the strain on its services. Chief executive Marjorie Wallace CBE, said in a statement on the SANE website, “At SANE we are already living with the serious consequences that recession can have on people’s mental health and are finding it difficult to meet the need.”

Wallace said that the increase in the number of people contacting the SANE helpline with depression and anxiety due to financial uncertainty, is disturbing.

“A vicious circle is being created with cuts to mental health services coinciding with increased demand, especially for psychological counselling, leaving people with no one to turn to at times of crisis,” Wallace said.

One anonymous caller to SANE’s helpline commented in an e-mail on the effect of financial hardship: “I suffer from depression, anxiety but my benefits are now paid at a reduced rate. It means I don’t have enough left to live on after I have paid my bills. And for whatever reason not eating or not getting enough sleep seems to make the depression worse. Each day I am finding it harder and harder to keep going.”

About 10 million people in the UK are affected by a mental health problem at any one time, according to government statistics.

Mental Health Awareness week runs from May 21 to 27.

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