Hartlepool lifeline for desperate sees huge increase in calls as recession bites

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A LIFELINE service for people in the depths of despair has seen a huge surge in the number of referrals and a 50 per cent rise in calls to its hotline since the start of the recession.

Bosses at mental health charity Hartlepool and East Durham Mind say the number of referrals in the space of the past 12-months has rocketed by 600 from 1,800 to 2,400, while there has also been a sharp rise in the number of calls to their hotline in recent years.

Nationally calls to the charity concerning personalfinance, employment and housing issues have doubled since 2008 and officials in Hartlepool believe the situation will only get worse due to budget cuts and people losing their jobs, or the fear of losing their jobs.

Hartlepool and East Durham Mind helps provide help and support to those with mental health issues but they also refer people on to other agencies and services.

Chief executive Iain Caldwell said common problems people are facing include debt, unemployment and redundancies.

He said the organisation has seen a spike in the amount of their referrals to organisations like Hartlepool Foodbank, Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau and Hartlepool and East Durham Mind’s own legal services department for people looking for help with bankruptcy.

In 2012, the referrals figure was between 1,800 and 1,900 but now it has rocketed to 2,400 and the fear is that it will rise further as the cuts and welfare reforms hit harder.

Mr Caldwell said: “Nationally there has been a rise in referrals and we are also seeing that locally.

“That is down to the recession with more people out of work or worried about losing their jobs due to huge budget cuts in all areas, but especially in local authorities, and services being stopped.

“There is a lot more people out of work but we are also getting more calls from people worrying about what is going to happen with their job next year.

“They are worried about what the future holds and as a result we have seen an increase in calls to us and referrals onto other agencies.

“It is a double edged sword for people and nationally there has been a rise of 16 per cent over the past 12-months alone.

“We are referring a lot of people to the Hartlepool Foodbank and also handed out Christmas presents that we have collected because there is a lot of people struggling with the basics, buying food or buying gifts for their children.”

The latest job figures show there were 3,897 people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in November, down from 3,992 in October but the high figures and risk of further job cuts are having an impact on town residents.

Help is at hand though for those people experiencing mental health issues and people are being urged to seek help.

Mr Caldwell said: “We are here to help resolve some of those issues or refer people onto other organisations that may be able to help.

“We are getting everyone from those on benefits to those that are in work but are worried about what impact the budget cuts or changes at their work are going to have on their role.”

Hartlepool and East Durham Mind’s office in Tees Street, Hartlepool, is closed today and New Year’s Day but open the rest of the festive period.

For help, information and support people are asked to call Hartlepool MIND on (01429) 269303.

Meanwhile, councillors have thrown their weight behind a national initiative aimed at tackling stigma and discrimination around mental health issues.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s adult services committee met recently to discuss the Local Authority Mental Health Challenge.

It has been set up by Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation, MIND, Rethink Mental Illness, Royal College of Psychiatrists and Young Minds.

Hartlepool Council will join other North East local authorities with the aim of promoting mental health including appointing an elected member as mental health champion, working to reduce inequalities in mental health in the local community, work with the NHS to integrate the support that people receive and encourage “positive mental health” in schools, colleges and the workplace.

Committee members raised concerns about the stigma attached to mental health issues, the impact of funding pressures on the future delivery of services, the current financial climate as well as the impact of welfare reform on people’s mental health.

Labour councillor Carl Richardson said: “This could be a growing problem.

“We are all in austerity measures and there is a lot of pressure being put on people.

“There should not be a stigma but a lot of people are suffering from it.”

Stephen Thomas, of Healthwatch Hartlepool, said: “The stigma issue is still alive and kicking.

“There has been some high profile people like Stephen Fry talking about the issue but the stigma is still there and needs to be challenged.”

The committee supported the Mental Health Challenge initiative to tackle stigma and discrimination and agreed that the appointment of a ‘member champion’ be supported.