‘First of its kind’ coronavirus mental health scheme in city

A "first of its kind" therapy service for people suffering with mental health problems in Liverpool during the coronavirus pandemic has started.

A team of leading Liverpool psychologists has launched the new telephone-based initiative, designed to help those in desperate need of emotional help amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

Entitled, "Working Conversations for the Coronavirus crisis" , the free scheme is designed to directly assist Merseysiders struggling with conditions including anxiety, depression, anger and loneliness, inevitably triggered by the current "stay-at-home" government guidelines.

Up to eight therapists, usually based in the city centre, have embarked on the project which is free of charge, and initially offers 15 minute chats with distressed patients, although there is flexibility for longer sessions if required.

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The idea is principally aimed at helping people locally, but it has started to get national interest, with some people calling from the south of England.

Regionally, the Trade Union Congress, The Fire Brigade Union, senior NHS executives in Wirral and top regional football clubs have been alerted to the scheme.

Steve Flatt, director of the non-profit organisation Psychological Therapies Unit, usually based in the Baltic Triangle, had the brainchild for the idea.

An experienced therapist of 20 years, he told the ECHO: "The reality is starting to bite.

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"People are getting stir crazy, and feeling very constrained, able to get out, at best, just twice a day for a short period of time.

"This will be a long-term situation and it will require a lot of fortitude from us all.

"With high levels of fatalities being reported every day, it is easy to focus purely on the negativity around us.

"There is no money being made from this, it's something we are doing as it's the right thing to do in this situation.

Liverpool City centre on a Bank Holiday weekend, during the lockdown because of the Coronavirus.

"Clients calling us will not be told what to do, we are not going to "therapy" them, we want people to notice what they are successfully doing to cope so far, and asking positive questions."

The ongoing lockdown and social distancing measures could also lead to added problems including domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and child abuse, experts say.

After the SARS epidemic, there was an increase in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in doctors and patients, while after 9/11 one in ten adults in New York showed signs of clinical depression in the month following the attack.

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Locally, more needs to be done to help those on Merseyside, dad-of-one Mr Flatt added.

The south Liverpool resident was a leading organiser of a virtual global conference, scheduled for this Wednesday, at which mental health experts from across the world will join together to discuss best practice solutions to address inevitable spikes in emotional trauma.

Already, 100 professionals have signed up to take part including participants from Singapore, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, America, and Europe.

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The confidential Working Conversations project began on Good Friday, but was already getting encouraging feedback, Mr Flatt said.

He added: "The more of us who can step up in our line of work, the better.

"We really want to benefit the Merseyside region in this fight, and are the only company of our type doing this in the city, on the scale we are operating.

"We aim to address the uncertainties of the future and getting people to cope in the here and now."

Helplines and support groups

The following are helplines and support networks for people to talk to, mostly listed on the NHS Choices website

  • Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you're feeling, or if you're worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.
  • Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won't show up on your phone bill.
  • PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is an organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
  • Mind (0300 123 3393) is a charity providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
  • Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
  • Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
  • Hub of Hope is the UK’s most comprehensive national mental health support database. Download the free app, visit hubofhope.co.uk or text HOPE to 85258 to find relevant services near you.
  • Young Persons Advisory Service – Providing mental health and emotional wellbeing services for Liverpool’s children, young people and families. tel: 0151 707 1025 email: support@ypas.org.uk
  • Paul's Place – providing free counselling and group sessions to anyone living in Merseyside who has lost a family member or friend to suicide. Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: paulsplace@beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk

In 2016, the ECHO told how The Psychological Therapies Unit had launched a UK-first scheme of experts meeting mental health sufferers in bustling cafes or churches.

Appointments were held in places including Leaf cafe on Bold Street, in Liverpool city centre, and in St Bride’s Church on Percy Street, on the edge of Toxteth.

Last night, Professor Neil Greenberg, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Health Protection Research Unit at King's College London, said the frightening experience of Covid-19 may still leave a lasting impression.

He said it was better to speak to people you trust about how distressing the experience was, rather than to avoid the subject.

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Prof Greenberg added: "Try and surround yourself with people who are going to be supportive and take time to speak about it."

If you feel in need of the service, call or text Kate on 07894 612249 or email suzi@psychological-therapies-unit.co.uk stating your phone number in the message.