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SIAC responds to increased demand for emergency mental health support in lockdown

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"Our callers appreciate that Solidarity in a Crisis Peer Supporters speak from experience - they're able to talk people through their initial crisis before signposting them towards specific local services."

Solidarity in a Crisis (SIAC) is our crisis helpline, offering peer-led mental health support by phone and in person to people in Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark. Calls and requests for support rose dramatically at the height of lockdown, with SIAC supporting nearly twice as many people as usual.

By moving online, the community team continued to support people experiencing mental health crises, while the helpline team was expanded to manage the increased demand from people experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress.

SIAC’s usual home, The Harbour Cafe, which in normal times is a relaxing, non-clinical space at Lewisham Hospital, was repurposed by the NHS during the peak. However, SIAC staff remained working alongside NHS colleagues in the hospital throughout the pandemic to give face-to-face support to people attending A&E with mental health emergencies.

Increased need for support during and after peak

Alexander Robertson, who managed SIAC during the height of the coronavirus crisis says: “Demand exploded during the peak months of the pandemic. We took calls from many more people – particularly younger people – who felt overwhelmed by multiple issues.”

But the need for support didn’t decrease when we came out of the peak, says Alexander: “Now, as we come out the other side, people are still contacting us in greater numbers, worried about housing, jobs and financial issues. Our callers appreciate that SIAC Peer Supporters speak from experience – they’re able to talk people through their initial crisis before signposting them towards specific local services.”

Finding strength in partnerships and the ability to adapt

To improve support for people who need it most, SIAC has built new partnerships during the pandemic. A collaboration with Carers Hub Lambeth is helping carers who, in addition to enduring many lonely hours shielding at home, might have lost their part-time jobs as well as their social lives during lockdown. Other collaborations include working with volunteers at the Loughborough Junction Action Group, plus supporting vulnerable asylum seekers identified by the Home Office.
The Harbour Cafe reopened in July with plans to expand the service over the coming months. Our community peer supporters are now meeting people in person at the Harbour Cafe again and continuing to work over the phone and Zoom. Having learned quickly how to support additional people while working with PPE and social distancing – and embracing digital working methods – the SIAC team feel ready to cope with anything that might be around the next corner