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York's leaders unite for action plan to tackle effects of COVID-19 on people's mental health

York’s leaders are taking action to tackle a big surge in demand for mental health support from people of all ages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of York Mental Health Summit held at the end of March proved a success, with key partners from the NHS, police service, education and the voluntary sector coming together for an innovative joint approach built around removing barriers and empowering organisations to act to support our communities.

They heard that services across the city are expecting to see large increases in demand for both children’s and adult mental health services. Almost 20% of the population will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, and the proportion of children experiencing a probable mental disorder has increased over the past three years, from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in July 2020.

It was revealed that the surge in demand for mental health support has already started, mainly affecting primary care, the voluntary sector, crisis services and eating disorder services for both children and young people and adults.

Since the summit, the key discussion points and pledges from all partners have been evolving into an action plan for the next six months, the next 15 months and the next three years – and York's Health and Wellbeing Board will be updated on progress at its next meeting on Wednesday, May 5.

Developments

Attending the summit were key individuals from NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group, City of York Council, mental health services provider Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, North Yorkshire Police, Public Health England, York CVS, York MIND and the University of York along with York MPs Rachael Maskell and Julian Sturdy plus North Yorkshire Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan.

They heard presentations about the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health from a public health perspective, predictions for a post-lockdown increase in demand for mental health services across system partners and the challenges of dealing with mental ill health in the criminal justice system.

They were also briefed about developments including changes in community mental health services and the Northern Quarter Project's vision for a community approach to mental health, as well as the effects of loneliness on mental health.

Early action points include ensuring all schools have in place a recovery curriculum which addresses good emotional and mental health and meets an agreed standard, working with an identified group of children who currently do not meet statutory thresholds for support to ensure their needs are met, longer contracts for existing VCSE (voluntary, community and social enterprise) services, additional suicide prevention support for marginalised communities and working with local employers and businesses to support staff.

Momentum

The summit was called by Phil Mettam, NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group’s Accountable Officer, and Tim Madgwick, Independent Chair of York’s Mental Health Partnership. They said: "The summit went extremely well, especially considering the short notice given and the pressure all attendees are under due to the pandemic.

"It gives us a great launchpad. However, the point was to turn words into action as quickly as possible and now it's all about momentum, making sure we remove barriers to working in a coordinated and innovative way across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

"We've got to get this right and we've got to do it now to lessen the mental-health legacy of this pandemic for a future generation."

At their next meeting, members of the Health and Wellbeing Board will be asked to ensure that adequate resources are made available within their organisations to support the developing action plan.

The board is chaired by Cllr Carol Runciman, City of York Council’s Executive Member for Health and Adult Social Care, who was also a summit delegate. She said: "Taking effective and joined-up action to support mental health is a must and the summit was timely and welcome. It was an opportunity to reflect and identify further initiatives.

"I was pleased to be able to report back on our partnership campaign #FeelRealYork, which launched in November to support adults to maintain or improve their mental health. It does this by normalising ‘not feeling great’ and by encouraging people to reach out and start a conversation with someone who’s struggling with difficult emotions.”

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