Extra funding to tackle mental health impact of lockdown

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Nicola SturgeonImage source, Getty Images

The Scottish government is committing extra funds to new mental health initiatives to help those struggling with the coronavirus lockdown.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said anxiety about the virus and the stress of lockdown can have "a really big impact on mental wellbeing".

She announced an extra £1m of funding for services including phone lines and digital resources as demand rises.

She urged people to "please reach out for help, because it is there".

Ms Sturgeon announced the new funding at her daily press conference, where she confirmed that 6,358 people had now tested positive for Covid-19 in Scotland.

She said the deaths of a further 40 people who have tested positive for the virus had been registered, bringing the total to 615.

However, Ms Sturgeon said there would have been delays in reporting over the Easter weekend. Wider figures about deaths outside of hospitals and where coronavirus is a "suspected" cause are to be released on Wednesday.

A total of 1,798 patients are in hospital with the virus, 196 of whom are in intensive care.

Ms Sturgeon said that given the nature of the crisis, "much of our focus is on protecting physical health", but stressed the importance of also maintaining good mental health.

She said "anxiety caused by this virus" and the "stress and isolation" caused by social distancing measures "can have a really big impact on mental wellbeing".

The first minister said demand for services continued to rise, as "people who may never before have been affected by mental health issues may now be experiencing emotional distress due to financial distress, bereavement and social distancing".

"We want to make sure anyone who requires support is able to access and receive that support," she said.

Services highlighted by Ms Sturgeon during the briefing included distress brief intervention (DBI) phone lines, which allow people to speak to trained staff, and digital resources for children and young people about "the healthy use of screens and social media".

The latest round of funding is in addition to £3.8m announced by Ms Sturgeon in March to increase the capacity of telephone and digital mental health services.

Dr John Mitchell, a consultant psychiatrist who is a senior advisor to the Scottish government, also provided some basic advice for people to follow during lockdown. It included:

  • Keep in regular contact with family and friends
  • Structure days with routine, including good sleeping patterns and exercise within guidelines
  • Be careful of media saturation of the crisis if it starts to feel overwhelming
  • Reflect on positives and matters within your personal control.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said specialist support was available for frontline health staff, including "excellent" counselling and trauma services.

Ms Freeman said she was "acutely aware" of the "enormous demands" being placed on health workers, many of whom would be "personally affected" by the virus while caring for others.