One year ago this week, our whole nation went into lockdown in response to a virus little was known about. Few would have thought that like most countries, we would still be facing restrictions on our personal freedom 12 months later.
Whilst we long for those freedoms to return, we must also remember the impact of the pandemic. I’ve written in this column previously about the economic impact, but as the last few weeks has brought back home, lives are still being lost to this dreadful virus in East Devon.
We must not forget lives lost. On Tuesday, many people took part in a minute’s silence to remember the lives lost to coronavirus. Parliament fell silent, and I paused and reflected on those who we’ve lost before their time.
When we do meet up with friends and family for a coffee in the coming months, some tables will have one person fewer. I’ve spoken to people across East Devon who are facing life without a loved one as a result of the virus. Every conversation is truly heart-breaking and I know some are also struggling to cope.
In recent years, we’ve become much more open about our mental health. It is OK not to be OK and I’m glad more people feel able to talk about how they feel. Taking that next step and asking for help, whether it’s speaking to friends or family, joining a support group or seeking support from a counsellor can be difficult, but necessary.
Coronavirus has increased anxiety for many of us, and experts warn a sizable minority could be left with mental health problems that outlast the pandemic. I’m acutely aware of the need to improve access to mental health support. Locally, we have the amazing NHS team based at St John’s Court in Exmouth. I’ve met with many people who’ve been helped by the superb team there.
A variety of groups offer support in East Devon. Headlight supports young people in Sidmouth and Ottery St Mary with regular one-to-one sessions, currently being held remotely. The Budleigh Health and Wellbeing Hub also offers support and I’m really pleased to see progress being made on the new Budleigh Community Workshop at the former fire station.
If you are struggling to cope, you're not alone. Please talk to someone you trust. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery. If you struggle to access services, please let me know and I’ll do everything I can to help you.