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Source: City of Stoke-on-Trent

This year has brought many challenges to us all, most of which have stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.

 It has placed a huge strain on so many aspects of our lives – from finances and job losses, to how we communicate with one another and show affection to each other. Significantly, it has affected both our physical and mental health. 

The Christmas period can be a very difficult time for anyone who feels isolated or lonely, and for anyone who has lost loved ones. I speak with and listen to residents from right across the city, and it is clear that this Christmas many people are already feeling extremely isolated due to coronavirus. Adding the general stresses of the festive season to the restrictions coronavirus brings may exacerbate existing feelings of anxiety and loneliness.

Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can affect anybody at any time – they don’t discriminate. This year, I have had the opportunity to visit several brilliant mental health support groups and services in the city. From talking to staff, volunteers and service users, it’s clear they have been lifelines for many residents. There is no shame in admitting you are struggling. I have struggled with mental health problems, but I have now gotten to the point in my journey where I feel able to be open and honest, and to not be ashamed. I know that this is easy to say, and for me, admitting that I needed help has been the hardest part of my recovery. However, once I accepted I was struggling, the relief was immense. If there is one thing I want to get across, it’s that although mental health is not easy to talk about and there is unfortunately still a stigma attached to it, nobody should be ashamed.

If you are feeling worried, stressed, anxious, sad or depressed, please know that you are not alone. I for one have found this year extremely difficult. During the first lockdown, I struggled with my mental health massively. In fact, I went for three days without any sleep at all due to anxiety. By the fourth night, I had begun to hallucinate and was completely at the end of my tether. It was then that I knew I needed help and I made the tough decision to call the mental health crisis line. By this point, I needed medical intervention because my body was completely deprived of sleep. There were many points before this where I could have accessed support, but like many others, it was challenging to get through to somebody. I called a national helpline twice in one afternoon but they were extremely busy and nobody answered my call. I Googled my symptoms and did some breathing exercises but for me, in that moment, they didn’t really help. I then managed to get through to somebody, and was able to speak to them over the phone about my anxiety, which helped me to process the way I was feeling.

When I look back now, I realise that I had reached some very dangerous points with my mental health, and that seeking support earlier could have prevented the extreme symptoms I was suffering from. Sleep deprivation was causing me to ‘zone out’ and I was finding myself in places, but couldn’t remember how I had gotten to them. I was constantly crying and not able to eat properly. All of these are common symptoms experienced by people struggling with their mental health, and they were signs that my mental health was suffering. It’s important to remember though that nobody is the same and that even symptoms that seem mild should not be dismissed – the sooner you make the decision to get some help, the better.

I’m proud that through the work of the city council and with the help of partners, we have moved quickly to recognise this, and ahead of the second national lockdown, had planned resources to help. It has meant that we have established a 24-hour mental health helpline with local support service Brighter Futures. Calls are handled by Brighter Futures’ staff, and they offer the person calling a safe space to talk through any issues they may be experiencing, and callers are then signposted to the appropriate support services available.

I am very passionate about championing mental health services and not just because I have used them myself. Statistics show how detrimental this year has been to our mental health, and that is why we have extended the 24-hour mental health helpline throughout the winter period. Between 7 November and 13 December, the helpline has received a total of 7,533 contacts from people seeking support, with 180 calls being from people who expressed they felt suicidal. If you are feeling unsure about calling the number, my advice would be to make the call. If you are feeling low and just want to talk, please call. If you haven’t spoken to anyone else in days and you are feeling really lonely, please call. We are here for you this Christmas.

I know it’s hard, and I know what it feels like to be sat on your own feeling low, anxious and overwhelmed. But, as cliched as it sounds, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some days are better than others, and there are always going to be trials and tribulations in life, but please know that you are not alone.

Councillor Ally Simcock

Cabinet member for adult social care and health care at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

If you would like some support with your mental health, please call the 24-hour mental health helpline via 01782 234233. Details of other support services in the city for issues you may be facing can be found via https://www.stoke.gov.uk/supportservices

You can find out more about other support services available via https://www.stoke.gov.uk/supportservices

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*These figures cover the period between 9 November and 13 December and were the latest available at the time of issuing. They cover all contacts made to the helpline manned by Brighter Futures staff.

For more information on services Brighter Futures offers, including mental health services, please visit: www.brighter-futures.org.uk

For all media enquiries only please contact the Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232395.

www.stoke.gov.uk/news

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MIL OSI United Kingdom