THERE has been a "concerning upsurge" in the number of people experiencing mental health problems in the Forth Valley during the coronavirus lockdown.

Medical chiefs at NHS Forth Valley revealed last week there is evidence to show increased numbers of people presenting with mental health distress in recent weeks and months.

As part of its remobilisation plan presented to government, the local health board is looking to ensure everyone receives the support they need in a "comprehensive" approach.

Mr Andrew Murray, medical director at NHS Forth Valley, told a virtual press briefing: "We are seeing the impact on people who have been vulnerable already from a mental health perspective and exacerbations of their conditions.

"Our mental health colleagues are looking at a real, concerning upsurge in those serious mental health conditions.

"Also, our accident and emergency department is seeing evidence of increased numbers of people coming in with mental health distress and related things like self-harm.

"It's not just about preparedness [post-lockdown], we are actually seeing that."

Mr Murray and colleagues are looking at different levels of support to be provided, from serious conditions that require patients to be hospitalised down to lower-level issues that people struggle with.

Third sector and community partners will be playing a role going forward and there is also a wide-range of self-support resources available, much of which is accessible online and has been brought in since lockdown started.

The medical director added: "That is something that concerns us because we are seeing increased numbers that demonstrate the mental health impact that it [coronavirus lockdown] is having on the population."

Mental health support services were seen as a priority to protect during the pandemic and urgent emergency care continued to be available, added a spokeswoman for the health board.

And it will remain a priority going forward with an increase in demand already demonstrable.

Shumela Ahmed, managing director at the Resilience Learning Partnership, has been supporting people in the Wee County through a craft box initiative, as previously highlighted in the Advertiser.

She has seen the impact the lockdown has been having on people.

Parents who already struggled have not had a "buffer" in place with schools closed.

Elsewhere, support workers could not easily engage with individuals due to social distancing.

She said: "I've been hearing through my networks, particularly in Forth Valley, they've got an overwhelming amount of people being referred to the mental health service.

"But what they told me as well is they are actually seeing a lot of people they wouldn't normally see."

In one particular case, a young person known to Shumela – someone who has been very outgoing and achieving well in school while being involved with a variety of clubs – is now struggling with the thought of going back.

Shumela said: "That was a bit of an eye-opener for me, actually, someone with no pre-existing mental health issues going from one extreme to the other now and really fearful about going back to school."

Scotland's principal medical officer has also last week called on people to prioritise their mental health as lockdown measures slowly ease.

It came after research showed that around 70 per cent of people are feeling anxious or concerned about others not following guidelines.

Dr John Mitchell, consultant psychiatrist and principal medical officer, explained that the concerns are normal and shared by everyone to differing degrees.

He said: "As restrictions lift, many of us may be struggling with our feelings and emotions, feeling anxious or frustrated for what seems like no reason.

"We may have gotten used to the restrictions, changing how we live, work and interact, and whilst we might expect everyone will be grateful for increased freedoms, many are really anxious about the next steps.

"It is important that we face our fears and do not avoid them."

People with anxiety, sleep problems or a range of other issues can visit to find a variety of self-help guides.

As highlighted in the Advertiser before, locals can also access a suite of online packages from the Silver Cloud programme by getting a referral from their GP.