The Samaritans are expanding their help to health and frontline care workers in the face of growing demand for long-term support for stress and anxiety.
More than 20,000 health and care workers have contacted the charity’s helplines since Covid began to spread last spring, and the Department of Health and Welfare has agreed to extend the financing of a dedicated line until at least September.
The Samaritans, who aim to help all those struggling to cope and reduce suicide rates, said many callers described feelings of guilt for not living up to “superhero” expectations. Others were reporting physical and emotional exhaustion 15 months since the start of the pandemic.
The helpline was set up at the start of the pandemic to help frontline staff dealing with the initial crisis. It is not intended for people who immediately feel suicidal, but it is in place to support the nearly 3 million health and social service workers in the UK as the first feelings of fear and overwhelm set in. turn into longer-term worries.
“It’s only now, a year later, that we think oh my God, what a year,” said Claudia Tomlin, a matron at Great Ormond Street Hospital who is responsible for around 80 staff. “There are elements of post-traumatic stress disorder and things that weren’t dealt with back then because there was no space.”
A survey by NHS staff last fall found that 44% of employees suffered from work-related stress in the past 12 months – a marked increase from the previous year.
The Unison union also polled the NHS and social workers and found that almost half said they had not done well mentally during the pandemic, fearing they could contract Covid, unable to socialize with their friends and family. family and increased workload described as key factors.
Ben Phillips, responsible for Samaritan service programs, said some callers described the guilt of failing to live up to the public’s perception of them as heroes.
“It’s not that they’re not heroes, it’s that they’re not superheroes – they’re not invulnerable,” he said.
Others described burnout – physical and emotional exhaustion – and wondered if they had the capacity to continue their work.
“Right now, callers are focusing less on the actual experience and are more thoughtful,” Phillips said. “The calls are getting longer and people want longer term support.”
The Samaritans said more than a fifth of calls for help to its main number have referred to the coronavirus in the past year. The main concerns have been access to mental health support during confinement, social isolation, relationship breakdown and financial worries.