New digital mental health services for Greater Manchester residents affected by COVID-19 and new social restrictions

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Chair of the Health and Social Care Partnership, Sir Richard Leese have announced an agreement for a city-region response on mental health to complement work already happening at a local level.

The COVID-19 crisis has presented challenges which will create additional pressure on mental health services from trying to support people already accessing services to dealing with new cases caused by people’s sense of loneliness and isolation as well as the impact on staffing levels.

As a result, a range of digital services and online support have been launched for children and adults across Greater Manchester to minimise the need for people to attend GP surgeries or hospital. These services can be accessed by people who are already experiencing mental health issues as well as people who may be struggling with the new social distancing and self-isolation restrictions. For example, there will be people in Greater Manchester who will be on their own and may not have a family or friend structure nearby to check on them and are experiencing loneliness and depression. There will also be people suffering from low-mood, stress and anxiety as a result of the limitations on their social interactions and normal day-to-day activities.

New support being offered includes the launch of the SHOUT service today (6 April 2020) – a confidential 24/7 text service operated by trained crisis volunteers who will chat using text responses. Advice is available for anyone struggling with a host of issues, including: anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, abuse or assault, self-harm, bullying or relationship issues. The service is overseen by clinical supervisors.

Other services that have been launched or will be launched include:

  • ChatHealth – a secure and confidential text messaging service for children and young people which allows patients to easily and anonymously get in touch with a healthcare professional for advice and support. This will be launched soon.
  • Kooth – an online counselling and emotional wellbeing platform for children and young people. Currently limited to Bolton, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Trafford and Wigan and will be extended to Bury, Salford, Stockport and Tameside by May 2020.
  • BlueIce – an evidenced-based app to help young people manage their emotions and reduce urges to self-harm. This app has launched and is available from a clinician working in CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services).
  • SilverCloud – an online therapy programme for adults proven to help with stress, anxiety, low-mood and depression.

Health Innovation Manchester is also working to identify additional digital services that could support specific vulnerable patient groups, including looked-after children and care leavers, those with special education needs and individuals with eating disorders.

The Greater Manchester Bereavement Service will be available by the end of the month to provide callers with an opportunity to talk about their loss. They will be made aware of services that are available in their local areas to support them at this time and in the months ahead; bereavement support and practical support for any issues they may be facing.

NHS staff will also be supported through the Greater Manchester Resilience Hub, set up in response to the Manchester Arena Attack in 2017, which will be providing additional support and consultation to those teams and organisations who are supporting the frontline keyworkers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said:

Andy Burnham

“This is a difficult time for everyone at the moment, but we will all get through it together. It’s important to look after your own health and wellbeing and take time to look out for the mental health of others. I’m conscious that lots of people need support to look after their mental health and as we enter weeks four, five, six and beyond of this coronavirus crisis and the limitations placed on our day-to-day lives, it’s going to become even more difficult for some people.

“We need to act together to combat social isolation and find ways for people to connect or interact. I would encourage everyone to keep in touch with their friends, families and neighbours via phone or video calls and to get in touch with any of the support services available.

“I also want to pass on my gratitude to the hard working staff and volunteers who have been working around the clock to develop the range of digital mental health services to help people who need it. It’s great to see so many people rise to the challenge to do what they can to support others.”

Sir Richard Leese, Chair of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, added: “COVID-19, and the national measures being announced to delay the spread of the epidemic will inevitably have a significant impact on both demand for and capacity to deliver support for people with mental health needs, a learning disability or autism.

“Lots of great work is being undertaken across the 10 boroughs, helping some of our most vulnerable. For example, the Spirit of Salford helpline, contact centre and digital platform was launched within 72 hours and has already had over 1,000 people get in touch. They are working to address people’s mental health and wellbeing and feelings of social isolation.

“Our overarching priority is to support mental health services to run as effectively as possible, ensuring that those seeking and needing mental health support and treatment receive this care. All mental health providers in Greater Manchester are trying to ensure as much continuity of care as possible. “

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