The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a detrimental effect on many people’s mental wellbeing, with latest data from ONS stating “In early 2021, rates of depressive symptoms for adults aged 16 to 39 years were more than double pre-pandemic levels” (ONS, May 2021).
Last September we updated you on how Anxiety UK’s helpline and therapy services had been impacted by Covid-19 which you can read here. At that time, we may have been thinking the worst was over. However, many people have continued to need our support through this very difficult pandemic.
The graph below helps us explain the narrative of the past year. The initial request for support we received was overwhelming; dealing with uncertainty can be problematic for our mental health, while the constant flow of new information understandably took its toll. This was borne out by the number of calls received during that early period of the pandemic when demand for initial, responsive support was high.
As people became accustomed to the lockdown and acclimatised to the new way of life, calls to our helpline started to fall in number. However, we did experience a further spike when restrictions eased, shortly after the first lockdown. Additional uncertainty and concerns about whether it was safe to lift restrictions as well as confusion about the rules, led to further worry and anxiety. At each stage of the pandemic when new rules or restrictions were imposed, we saw an impact on mental well-being and anxiety.
The third lockdown at the start of this year saw a rise in presentations of anxiety-based depression and low mood as many found this specific time particularly challenging with cold, miserable weather combined with a return to restrictions accounting for much of the contact received. Once the ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ was set out, we began to see the focus switch again and received calls from people worrying about returning to normal and going back to work or school. The rollout of the vaccination programme also led to a flurry of calls centred on anxiety around needles, injections and the vaccination itself. A webpage with resources on this subject was produced in order to provide much-needed support for affected individuals.
Equally, while demand increased for our helpline services, our therapy services were also being accessed in much higher volumes than in pre-pandemic times. Whilst face to face delivery has been temporarily suspended, throughout the pandemic to date, we have continued to offer therapy online and by telephone. We have provided access to a range of therapies including counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), clinical hypnotherapy (CH) and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). And, in the spring of this year, we launched an Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) service, specifically aimed at those experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or trauma. With a large pool of over 400+ Anxiety UK Approved Therapists, we have continued to help support people struggling with anxiety, when some service providers experienced service delivery challenges – see Health Organisation (WHO) survey here.
Overall, during the past 15 months we have seen a steep increase in the number of individual requests for therapy, as shown in the graph below. Whether new cases stemming from the pandemic, it is clear that aspects of lockdown too has had a negative impact on the nation’s mental health; preventing people from spending time with friends and family and doing many of the activities that typically help to maintain good mental wellbeing and stave off anxiety.
Whilst the pandemic has caused many challenges, at Anxiety UK we have had one of our most successful years in terms of service delivery, launching a range of new services to support those with anxiety, stress and anxiety-based depression. This has included new, online anxiety support groups that take place twice a week, therapist-led anxiety management courses (based on the principles of CBT, CFT and ACT), a revamped ‘Therapy on Demand’ service offering instant access to therapy, Calm Club sessions (based on clinical hypnotherapy relaxation techniques) and recently, a new ‘Art for Anxiety Relief (AFAR)’ programme.
At Anxiety UK, we regularly work with external agencies and healthcare professionals to improve services for those living with anxiety. Throughout the pandemic and to date, we have provided anonymised service uptake data to Public Health England, the Cabinet Office and the Association of Mental Health Providers (AMHP); ensuring the message is heard that anxiety is, and will continue to be, an area of significance that cannot and should not be ignored. This data has been included in Public Health England’s ‘COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report’ see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-mental-health-and-wellbeing-surveillance-report and also used by AMHP who produced a briefing on ‘COVID-19 and Impact on VCSE Mental Health Sector’ see: https://amhp.org.uk/new-briefing-on-covid-19-and-impact-on-vcse-mental-health-sector/.
Our small, committed team at Anxiety UK (many of whom have their own lived experience of anxiety), are proud to have gone above and beyond to support the nation during this difficult time. We know there are people dealing with anxiety, stress and anxiety-based depression on a day-to-day basis in normal times, however the pandemic has generated new levels of anxiety and continues to impact negatively on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Whatever the source of your anxiety, our wonderful staff team, volunteers and Anxiety UK Approved Therapists are here to help. Together we can make the despair caused by anxiety a thing of the past.