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New outreach service offers combined mental health support and practical advice to most vulnerable communities

A new project has been launched in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to provide both mental health support and practical advice on money, jobs and housing to the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Funded by Cornwall Council, it will see experts from Citizens Advice Cornwall and the Pentreath mental health charity join forces to provide an outreach service.

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Named Mhend (Mental Health Employment Needs and Debt advice), it will initially run as a 12-month pilot set up to respond to people’s immediate needs.

The project is designed to reach those residents who are likely to have been most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

These include people on low incomes accessing high risk loans, private renters, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) families, farming and fishing communities, and those with health conditions and disabilities.

Local surveys show that job insecurity and other concerns related to the pandemic have led to a probable two-fold increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression (Source: Healthwatch 2020).

It is also thought that many people suffering with mental health issues - often for the first time in their lives - are not accessing the help and support they need.

The Mhend programme will see three teams of two advisors spread across Cornwall with support offered in several ways from face-to-face (when restrictions allow) or telephone consultations to video calls and web chats.

Dr Richard Sharpe, public health advanced practitioner at Cornwall Council specialising in mental health, said: “The pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s mental health as they are understandably worried about their finances, the health of their family and friends and job stability. As with many things, this has taken a particularly severe toll on those who are already struggling or vulnerable.

“The Mhend project aims to provide a single point of contact for anyone who finds themselves struggling with their mental health and who also needs good, clear advice about what their options are and the support that is available to them. The experts at Citizens Advice and Pentreath are in the perfect position to do that.

“As an example, individuals may be offered a plan for their debt management as well as supporting their mental health with wellbeing activities and signposting to services that can help them move forward in their recovery.” 

The 2020 Cornwall Council survey shows that a significant proportion of participants had experienced problems with their employment (including furlough, reduced hours and business closures) and changes to care and support services, and highlighted particularly vulnerable groups. 

For example, 10 per cent of BAME residents said they had been made redundant, exacerbating heightened anxieties associated with being at greater risk of catching Covid-19. 

The recent Cornwall Council Insights report highlighted a doubling in the number of people on Universal Credit, from 23,000 in January 2020 to 49,000 people in October 2020. 

Cllr Sally Hawken, Cornwall Council’s Portfolio Holder for Children, Wellbeing and Public Health, said: “There is evidence that the pandemic is having a significant impact on people’s mental wellbeing. This will have both a short and long-lasting effect on mental health.

“Having employment, as well as somewhere warm and safe to live, are some of the key pillars to protecting and maintaining good mental health. The Mhend project is a great way of combining mental health support with advice on the very issues that are likely to cause people to struggle with their mental wellbeing.”

Gill Pipkin, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Cornwall, said: "It's really important that everyone has access to good quality advice and information to help them overcome their challenges in life. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Pentreath on this project, which will help the most vulnerable members of the community at this most difficult time."

People can be referred to Mhend, or can also refer themselves by contacting Pentreath on 01726 862727 or by completing the referral form available on the Pentreath website.