"STARTLING" figures have revealed the toll the coronavirus pandemic is having on young people’s mental health in South Lakeland.

An online survey of more than 1,600 South Lakes residents, which was conducted by local MP Tim Farron, revealed that young people were struggling "disproportionately" with their mental health – with more than half describing it as "poor."

Worryingly, the survey also found that 70 per cent of those aged 19 or younger said that their mental health was worse than this time last year, with many referencing the stress of exams and their inability to plan for the future.

And, according to the survey, the group struggling the most were males aged 20 to 29, with 59 per cent describing their mental health as "poor" and 72 per cent describing their mental health as worse than this time last year, citing increased pressure at work, relationship breakups and not being able to see friends.

Mr Farron said: “These deeply alarming results are further evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic has created a devastating mental health crisis that is disproportionately hitting young people the hardest."

In total, 62 per cent of people who completed the survey of all ages said their mental health was worse than this time last year.

“It’s startling information,” said Ramin Salehi, chair of trustees for South Lakeland mental health charity Well Minds.

The Westmorland Gazette:

“It’s a small sample group but I don’t think it’s far off from the truth; in fact, I wonder whether it’s actually going to be worse than this.”

Well Minds launched early last year and focuses on supporting people aged 12 to 25 in South Lakeland.

Mr Salehi, who is a qualified mental health first aid trainer, believes in involving young people with the charity’s work to make sure support is targeted.

“I think there’s just not enough resource and there wasn’t enough before the pandemic,” said Mr Salehi.

“The pandemic slowed things down for us being formally recognised as a charity but what soon became apparent was the demographic we are focusing on was going to be the hardest hit.

“Because often it is the group that doesn’t have a voice, they’re not represented in public life particularly and that needs to change.

“Some of the milestones our teenagers would have in terms of finishing A-levels, end-of-year balls; all of those rights of passage have been taken away, and then the added sense of isolation.

“What we are keen to do as a charity is involve the youth in formulating what we do; we don’t want to create a service and tell them: 'This is what you need'.”

The charity has started work with a local school to provide education-based services on mental health, such as workshops and assemblies discussing topics including self-harm and the negative impacts of social media, as well as offering counselling services.

“We feel it is really important that awareness is raised and language is given to things that are not spoken about,” said Mr Salehi.

“There will be some cases where there is acute need and we would always recommend that you go to professional services, but there is a great deal of power in creating a space for conversation.

“As parents we need to take notice of changes in behaviour and start asking direct questions.

“And there’s a lot of importance in teachers engaging with pupils one-to-one.”

Mr Salehi urged anyone struggling with their mental health to speak out.

“The nature of mental health conditions is that most are hidden and undiagnosed,” he said.

“We want to encourage people to be brave enough to ask for help and communicate that to someone who is trusted.

“While that may sound daunting, if we don’t say anything nothing happens, unless it’s crisis.”

“And we want to avoid that.”

Mr Farron added: “Thankfully support is out there with wonderful organisations like the Samaritans who are just a phone call away for anyone who is struggling.

The Westmorland Gazette: Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale

“But charities can’t do it all on their own.

"We need our NHS to be given the money, staff and resources it needs to be there for everyone who is having a mental health crisis.”

In response to the pandemic, Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust has launched additional services to provide support for people.

A spokesperson for Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust said: “There is no doubt that people are facing additional pressures and challenges as a result of Coronavirus.

"That's why we have introduced additional support to ensure people can receive the right help at the right time."

The trust has launched a free 24/7 helpline where people can receive advice, support or be referred to specialist services and Mental Health Urgent Assessment Centres, which are supporting Accident and Emergency Departments in South Cumbria and Lancashire, meaning that people get specialist mental health support quicker.

Clinical staff have also started working seven days a week during the pandemic to increase accessibility.

“It’s really important that people know there is support and help available to them, regardless of who they are or how old they are," continued the spokesperson.

"Please reach out for help.

“We have a support line that is staffed by people with lived experience for anyone who is feeling low and wants to chat.

"The service operates Monday to Friday, 7pm – 11pm and Saturday to Sunday, 12pm – Midnight. The helpline can be contacted by calling 0800 915 or texting ‘hello’ to 07860 022846.

“There are also a range of services available to people in South Cumbria through our First Step team and more details can be found online here.

“If anyone is feeling overwhelmed and needs urgent support, please contact our free crisis line on 0800 953 0110, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“We are here to support people through difficult times.”