Mental Health Worsened For A Quarter Of Those Receiving Remote Support During Pandemic
The coronavirus outbreak had a major impact on us all, but a recent study has revealed that mental health worsened even for some of those receiving support throughout the pandemic.
The topic of mental health, in spite of its importance, can often be shied away from, ignored or overlooked. It can be difficult for people to open up about what’s going on inside their head, so when we do, it’s good to know there are people willing to listen and help.
Support can come in the form of friends, family, helplines, counselling services and therapists, but throughout the coronavirus pandemic, our access to these support systems became much more limited.
According to Mind’s Trying To Connect report, a survey of more than 16,000 adults taken between April and June 2020 found that a quarter of those who tried to access mental health support in the first national lockdown were not able to, with reasons including technological barriers or because they felt uncomfortable discussing their experiences over the phone.
A follow-up survey, which ran from December 2020 to February 2021, spoke to 1,914 people aged 13 and older and found that 1,366 (71%) were offered mental health support by the NHS through the phone or online rather than face-to-face. Of those, 80% took up this offer, 14% did not, and the rest preferred not to say.
While some participants preferred the virtual exchanges, the distanced interactions simply did not work for some of those in need of support, with Mind finding that a quarter of respondents felt their mental health got worse after receiving support online or through the phone, while 28% said their mental health stayed the same.
Some were hindered by the use of technology, struggling with WiFi issues, while others were concerned about the lack of privacy that came with conducting sessions at home.
Problems with the internet and feeling cooped up at home are issues almost everyone will likely be able to relate to after months of lockdown, and having them impact your ability to better your mental health only adds to the stress of the situation.
One respondent said, ‘I am in a difficult relationship and therapy at home just didn’t work for me, I was used to having the time for myself to go to therapy and the privacy. I couldn’t talk properly at home.’
Other issues that came with remote support included difficulties communicating and forming a therapeutic relationship, with one person saying that receiving help over the phone ‘isn’t really as personal as [they] want it to be’.
They commented, ‘It does hold back what I say because I don’t want to break down in tears and have them not be able to hear me over the phone.’
During the study, respondents also expressed concerns about the safety of receiving support in a remote manner, with some worried that therapists may miss warning signs they would spot in person, and one person recalling an occasion on which they ‘became very distressed’ while doing therapy online.
[I] got to the point where my therapist was trying to talk me round and I just dissociated, and of course I’m on my own. Depending I guess on what therapy you’re having, are you safe to be having it on your own? Or do you need to be face to face when actually someone can pick up how you’re responding and bring you back to the safe zone?
Though remote support was not right for everyone, Mind did find that 40% of those who used the services felt their mental health got better, and 30% felt that getting support by phone, video call or online meant that they could access help faster than if they had to wait for an in-person appointment.
In turn, this allowed those using the support to halt mental health decline more quickly, with one person saying, ‘I got help earlier in my decline and therefore could respond better. If I had been left for six months, it could have reached crisis point.’
Other respondents appreciated the distanced support in allowing them to retain anonymity, and while some found it difficult to talk at home due to privacy concerns, others enjoyed being able to receive help in the comfort of their own homes.
Everyone is different and has their own experiences when it comes to mental health, which is why remote support worked for some people and not for others.
With that in mind, the charity stressed the importance of taking into account individual challenges when it comes to offering services and allowing people struggling with mental health to choose how their appointments should be conducted.
Those who find themselves more comfortable chatting candidly while surrounded by a group of friends may find that face-to-face support is more suitable for them, while those who prefer to share their feelings anonymously or open up online may find more strength in remote services.
Mind notes that people should be able to change their mind about the ways they receive support to accommodate changing circumstances, and advises the UK government that its coronavirus recovery planning must ensure ‘choice in how people access services is maintained, rather than a focus on a ‘digital first’ model for all’.
It is thought that up to 10 million people in the UK will need either new or additional mental health support as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to forecasting from the Centre for Mental Health, so it is vital that adequate, prompt support for those in need is treated as a priority.
If you’ve been impacted by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, you can contact Mind’s infoline on 0300 123 3393.
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