No one could have foreseen how 2020 has played out for any of us. It has undoubtedly been one of the strangest and most unsettled years any of us have ever experienced (and with any luck ever will experience). But it can be very easy to overlook how the mess that has been this year affects our children and the children of those around us. Obviously, there are the big things like being stuck at home bored, or missing out of regular activities like school, playing in parks and seeing friends. But arguably these types of things are not going to leave a mark. Children are resilient and once things go back to normal, so will they. Right?
Well, this is both true and wishful thinking as things are never that simple. The lasting effects of this pandemic aren’t only going to be the tragic death toll or the huge changes it has brought to our daily lives. Alongside these yet massively overlooked are the mental health aspects and the impact such mental health issues bring to the lives of countless families. As such, and in honour and support of World Mental Health Day on Saturday the 10th of October, we’d like to dedicate this and a few subsequent blog posts to discussing these often difficult topics.
People in the Know
Recently, we were fortunate enough to have a very informative discussion with a member of the Public Health Nursing team that work here in Plymouth. For those of you that might be unaware, the Public Health Nursing team are the individuals that are always working away behind the scenes to try and ensure you are looked after in a variety of ways. This covers a huge array of areas, far too many to list here, but essentially whether you get referred to them by a GP, or you seek to contact them personally about yourself or others, one of their main areas of focus is around mental health and it impacts on the lives of individuals, children and families.
It was whilst discussing these areas of their job, that the subject of child safeguarding came up. Now, this is an aspect of the service that tends to be almost completely invisible to the general public and also an area that they are constantly pushing to raise awareness around. We will look at what exactly child safeguarding is in more detail in a future blog post, but it should go without saying that it means every child is well looked after and safe from harm, both physical and mental. In the meantime, we strongly encourage you to have a read for yourselves on the Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board website and find out more about this important subject. They also provide the facilities to report or discuss any child you have concerns about in any form.
Mental Health Affects Everyone
Mental health can and does affect anyone from any walk of life. There are stereotypes that are applied to people from opposite ends of society, lifestyles, beliefs or the affluency scale. For example, it could be very easy for an individual presently not in work to think that someone earning a large salary has it easy whereas they are lying awake at night worrying how they will feed their family. Inversely, that high earner may look at them and think how simple their life must be just being at home and not dealing with the immense stress and long hours their job puts upon them. Both of these people would probably jump to conclusions about the other’s lifestyle, but really both are suffering from very similar mental health issues, just ones that are brought about by incredibly different means.
It can be very easy to make generalisations and judgements around mental health, especially who is affected by it. Even to the point where it almost becomes an entitlement checklist to see if someone “really should have” mental health issues, or if they “are just a bit sensitive”, to use two very common examples of such statements. These kinds of statements need to be looked at through a very different lens; you wouldn’t question an individual on crutches if you saw them use a disabled parking space, so why would you question someone that has been brave enough to identify themselves as having a mental health concern? You cannot see someone’s mental health and have no way to know how they are feeling, so judging them either openly or internally isn’t going to help anyone.
So, why are we highlighting this now, besides it being World Mental Health Day? Well like most things this year, it is due to the pandemic. We have discussed mental health before, with the focus on how sporting activities can help in a previous blog post. But this was back before the pandemic fundamentally changed the world for pretty much all of us. Now we have a whole new layer of potential stresses and issues that have been piled on top of all of the preexisting ones. The media focus has often been on the flashy and scare-mongering headlines usually around the death toll. Obviously, this is important in its own right, but what far fewer publications seem to be discussing is the impact the pandemic, and especially lockdown, has had on peoples mental health.
Some Scary Numbers
One of the tragic truths of the lockdown has been that enforced isolation has placed many people in more perilous and unpredictable domestic situations without their usual respites of work or school. Add to that the sheer stress of being effectively trapped together in an already unhappy household, and it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to understand how slightly frayed tempers have devolved into dangerous situations.
Data for post-lockdown months is still patchy, but on the 27th of May Refuge, a wonderful charity that helps women and children with domestic abuse, reported that during the first few weeks of lockdown calls to its helpline increased by approximately 50% whilst visits to its website were up over 300%! By May, these numbers had risen to almost a 66% increase in call volume and a staggering 950% rise in website traffic.
Note: whilst Refuge do also offer support for male victims, there is a dedicated charity called ManKind that offers excellent, specialised services for men suffering domestic violence.
These figures also fit perfectly in line with what our friendly member of the Public Health Nursing team had told us. In fact, they made an almost identical statement to one published by Refuge, something that we feel sums up much of the reasoning for such a rise:
While lockdown itself does not cause domestic abuse, it can aggravate pre-existing behaviours in abusive partners.Sandra Horley, CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge – Refuge reports further increase in demand for its National Domestic Abuse Helpline services during lockdown
Police statistics also indicate a similar increase, which has been reported by local news outlets such as our own Plymouth Herald, but these statistics do not include children as they are classified differently. Regardless it paints a fairly bleak picture that many of us we may well have been unaware of.
Whilst clearly inexcusable and terrifying for the men, women and children that are victims of such abuse, domestic violence and its effects are all tied directly to the mental health of the individuals involved. Abusers often lash out due to their own mental health issues, and suffering abuse can of course lead to mental scarring and trauma. But even if it is indirect, simply being in a household where parents are constantly fighting, arguing and shouting will erode children’s mental health. This is where the lasting effects of such an environment will be found, effects that are only made worse by having no option for time away from the home. In our next blog post, we will dive a little deeper into child safeguarding, the effects of the lockdown on children specifically and their mental health as well as discussing the importance schools and clubs play in their wellbeing.
But We’re Not Going to End on that Note!
Ok, this has been a bit of a heavy blog post, but I think you’ll agree if you’ve made it this far that the importance of this subject cannot be denied. We may not be able to get together in the exact ways we could before, but NOW more than ever is the time to be there for each other. One of the reasons that crime statistics are showing such dramatic increases in domestic violence is that more people are home during the day and are seeing and hearing things they otherwise may not have. People are reporting their concerns more and this is helping those that may not otherwise reach out be given access to the help they might very well need.
In fact, Plymouth has recently been scientifically proven to have a very high percentage of friendly people in it, as well as those most likely to help a stranger. So let’s take that as something to be proud of and come together in these trying times and try our best to look after each other. Let’s aim to live up to the findings of this research and reach out to those in need, say the things that need to be said, be a friendly face without needing a reason.
Sometimes just a simple smile (from a safe distance of course!) can help to brighten someone’s day. Be that smile, and let’s all push through the hard times together supporting each other, not fighting over trivialities.
We don’t expect you to go round wishing each other a happy World Mental Health Day, but maybe a tiny bit of quiet introspection or sparing a thought of someone else might just make a difference today, or any day.
Where to Get Help
If you have been affected by any of the topics covered in this blog post or want to find out more including how to get help then please check out these resources:
- Plymouth Public Health Nursing – 01752 434008
- Plymouth Social Services – 01752 668000
- The Plymouth Online Directory
- The Plymouth CAHMS Team – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
- Refuge – A charity for women and children against domestic violence
- ManKind – A charity that focuses on domestic violence against men
- NHS Domestic Violence and Abuse website
- NHS Mental Health Services website