Charities in the north-east and Highlands have hailed the easing of lockdown restrictions as a “huge step forward” for those suffering with mental health issues and loneliness.
Alison Campbell, senior coordinator at Befrienders Highland in Inverness, said her organisation has experienced a 62% increase in the number of matches her coordinators have been handling since April 2020.
However, she added that the loneliness charity has also witnessed a large uptake in volunteers signing up to help those in need since the start of the pandemic.
The easing of restrictions to allow people to travel onto other local authority areas and meet up with more people will have “quite a huge impact” on those Befrienders Highland work with, Ms Campbell said.
But she added that efforts will need to be made to make people feel safe once more.
She added: “A big part of our service is providing face-to-face befriending and the restriction on doing that has had a big effect on people.
“I’ve spoken to a few people who have barely been over the door over the last 12 months, so they’ve really missed that social contact.
“But while some people will be delighted that the restrictions are easing, others are going to be a bit more hesitant as people are simply scared to go out because they’ve been inside for so long.
“A lot of the work we’ve done with people suffering mental ill health throughout the pandemic will mean that we’ll probably have to do quite a bit of work with them to get them relaxed about doing face-to-face meetings again as well.
“For some it will be brilliant – they’ll really look forward to it – and for some it will take a bit more work.”
Angie House, who works with Befriending Caithness, said her charity had taken part in a lot of face-to-face and hospital and care home visits before the pandemic, which had to be eliminated completely.
She said: “We got together the best way we could, so that was through telephone, letter, cards and through technology with iPads and Zoom.
“What’s happened over the last year is that volunteers stood up, took on this challenge and changed the way we were running this service.
“I’m encouraging people to look forward, what with vaccinations and everything else happening, to a more positive time in a couple of weeks.”
However, new chief executive of Mental Health Aberdeen, Graeme Kinghorn, said that while the lifting of travel restrictions by the First Minister is “to be welcomed” it has created longstanding problems for those suffering with mental health problems.
He said: “The prolonged restrictions have created very significant mental health issues among a large proportion of the local population.
“Mental Health Aberdeen has seen these issues manifest themselves in a noticeable increase of people self-referring for our services, a pronounced heightening of anxiety levels for our clients, that are focussed on the effects of lockdown and tragically, an increase in suicide rates both locally and across Scotland.
“The effects of the various lockdowns are unfortunately going to take years for some to address.”