Tuesday, 02 June 2020

Counselling service sees rise in demand as coronavirus increases anxiety

A CHARITY in Henley that supports people with mental health problems has seen an increase in the number of clients who rely on it for help.

In just two weeks Riverside Counselling Service was approached by at least 38 people for an initial consultation.

It is also offering to support NHS staff and other frontline workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the number of people applying for counselling, the service is cautious about connecting this to the effects of the covid-19 crisis.

Director and clinical lead Hilary Arthur said the unprecedented situation created by the lockdown made it difficult to compare the period to previous years.

She said the service, which has operated for more than 30 years, was closed for Easter and did not open for a month while it transitioned to working online via Zoom, Microsoft Teams and by telephone.

This  could have led to a backlog in applications, reducing the likelihood that the recent increase was caused by the pandemic.

“All I can say is that year-on- year the number of enquires we have for counselling increases at an alarming rate,” she said. “Last year it was up by 35 per cent on the previous year.”

This was partly because the profile of mental health had been raised but mainly because the provision of GP practice-based counselling in Oxfordshire had decreased over the past five years.

Riverside, which operates at four sites across Henley and helps about 70 people in the town, is continuing to provide therapy to 128 clients through online or phone consultations.

About 23 people have decided not to continue with their sessions until it is possible to attend them in person again.

Fundraising manager Amanda Collins said some probably lacked a quiet space to take part in them at home.  She continued: “Those who already have mental health conditions are finding the current situation is adding to their anxieties.

“At this stage it’s difficult to assess whether the new clients are coming for support directly due to the impact of the coronavirus. This is something we will monitor.

“All current reports are that the pandemic will have a longer-term impact on mental health as society returns to ‘normal’, especially on those who have been directly affected, such as frontline workers, those who have had the virus and bereaved families. As a service, we will be here to support them.”

Mrs Collins said the lockdown might also be discouraging some people from seeking support when they needed it.

She said: “We think there’s a lot of increased anxiety and the immediate concern is there might be a bit of a lull while people process it and they might not be able to take part in counselling even if they wanted to. Our biggest concern is those people who were already seeking support from us and maintaining the service for them so they’re not abandoned.”

The service has 52 counsellors and most are volunteers. They received specialist training in how to provide remote counselling once it was clear this would be needed.  This was funded in part by grants from donors such as the Invesco Cares Foundation, the Thamesfield Youth Association, the Shanly Foundation, the Oxfordshire Community Foundation and the Anthony Lane Foundation.

Mrs Collins said: “When we realised we would need to transfer our services to an online service I approached a number of trusts who were already supporting us. They have come back to support us and that has enabled us to continue with the service. Counselling online requires different skills so all the counsellors needed training.”

To contact Riverside, call (01491) 876670, email contact@riversidecounselling
service.co.uk or visit www.riversidecounselling

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