A leading Belfast psychotherapist has told how people are “heightened with stress and anxiety” due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mandy McDermott, from Shankill-based Compass Counselling, said that nine-out-of-10 of her organisation’s service users are experiencing issues linked to the Coronavirus.

“The novelty of the lockdown is wearing off and people are getting very frustrated,” she said.

“They’ve got other difficulties, financially, psychologically, and it’s really impacting them mentally.

“We have had to look at how we can help people during isolation and while adhering to social distancing, but it’s very difficult. We’re very limited in what we can do because it’s not face-to-face. We’re offering coping strategies, emotional and doing a lot of check-in calls.”

She continued: “We were already working with people who were going through the grieving process, but now you’ve got this added pressure when people are dying. People are feeling that they’re not able to say their proper goodbyes.

“We’re advising people to try to stay in the present moment – instead of their mind racing – and to try to remember the person. It’s a very complex situation and we’re all doing the best that we can to adapt.”

She added: “We’re trying to help people to change their mindset to help alleviate their stress and anxiety.”

With counselling services facing mounting pressure, Ms McDermott said that urgent investment in mental health is needed to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic.

The senior psychotherapist expressed “major concerns” about the impact on frontline staff who are battling Covid-19.

“We’re working with paramedics, we’re working with nurses, and other frontline staff, and they’re seeing a lot of trauma too,” she explained.

“Mental health practitioners are working round the clock. The invisible illness is mental health.

“After this, I have major concerns about after this pandemic in particular when frontline staff are going to be dealing with the trauma.

“Some of them are the last ones to hold the hand of people when their own family members can’t get in. There will be a lot of PTSD, so we need proper investment to deal with that.”

Ms McDermott said that while a lot of efforts had rightly been focused on tackling Covid-19, the issue of mental health has “been set aside” by statutory bodies.

“Mental health doesn’t go away,” she said.

“This pandemic is here, but a lot of mental health has been set aside. There is a lot of untreated mental illness because people are terrified of taking the service away from the NHS.

“We really need to make sure that mental health services are funded and resourced to help people.”