Five charities providing support for the 1.3 million people with sensory loss in Scotland have today called for action to help deal with the mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a major report published today by The Health and Social Care Alliance, deafscotland, RNID, Sight Scotland and Deafblind Scotland call on Ministers and MSPs to set out specific actions to address longstanding sensory poverty and to support people with sensory loss as part of the Scottish Government’s action plan “Mental Health – Scotland’s Transition and Recovery.”
The recommendations in the charities’ report “Mental Health, Sensory Loss and Human Rights” are rooted in the principle that Inclusive Communication is a human right and a gateway to the equal enjoyment of rights. The charities believe mental health services must be ‘Sensory Literate’ if they are to be accessible for people with sensory loss, with training for staff so they are aware of people’s specific needs.
Research undertaken by the charities has shown that people living with sensory loss have been particularly affected by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and that more needs to be done to help them deal with the mental health impacts of their disability. deafscotland’s report “Covid-19: The Communication Virus” found that self-isolation and social distancing left people affected by deafness more isolated than is usual and becoming mentally unwell without access to support.
Research by Sight Scotland has highlighted that two thirds of blind and partially sighted people felt lockdown had been a worse experience for them because of their sight loss. The charity’s report ‘Emotional Support for Sight Loss’ found that 85 per cent of blind and partially sighted had experienced challenges to their mental health but two thirds had not been offered support.
Speaking on behalf of the charities, Isabella Goldie, Chief Executive of Deafblind Scotland said:
“The impact of sensory loss is not only on physical health, but also on mental health and wellbeing. It is vital more people receive the support they need to cope with the emotional impact of sight loss, hearing loss and dual sensory loss.
“The experience of the pandemic has been particularly challenging for people with sensory loss. Many have had services withdrawn, faced additional problems with communication and language issues, and found social distancing challenging or impossible. As a result, many people with sensory loss have become increasingly isolated. Despite doing all we can to reach out longer term support and investment to protect the mental health and wellbeing of people who are unfairly and disproportionately at high is going to be needed like never before. The Scottish Government’s transition plan to tackle the mental health challenges arising from the pandemic is welcome, but needs more specific action which recognises the impact there has been for people with sensory loss. This is an issue which must be recognised by all parties as we approach the Scottish Parliament elections in May.”
“We have called for a range of actions, including accessible mental health services for people with sensory loss and a specific Scottish Government workstream on mental health support for sensory loss as we emerge from the pandemic. Fundamentally, this is also a human rights issue. Moving forward, it is vital that all mental health actions and policies are human rights checked so we can be confident they will be inclusive for people with sensory loss. We warmly welcome that the National Taskforce for Human Rights has already set out the need for an inclusive communications approach, but further actions are needed.”
Kirin Saeed is a campaigner for the rights of blind and partially sighted people. She sought bereavement counselling when she lost her husband, but this didn’t address the effect of her sight loss on her emotional wellbeing. “I felt like because I had further sight loss at the time of my bereavement, the counselling helped me with one part of what I was going through, but not the other.”
“Emotional wellbeing is not recognised enough in the disability community. Too often people think they just have to get on with it, and yet you have to fight battles at all levels so much of the time. You have to constantly argue for support, argue your case for equipment, argue your case for help with access to work. This is stressful in itself, not to mention the inaccessibility of information or services once you are offered them.”
Craig Flight from West Lothian receives support from Deafblind Scotland. Craig said:
“I have been struggling with becoming Deafblind. I’m young and it’s been a particularly isolating time. lockdown has created a big issue with my mental health. It’s really helped to have had DbS wellbeing team to talk to about everything and that made a big difference. Particularly when I have no family help. But this help is needed for everyone. No one should struggle with this alone and better support is needed to help people adjust to this really stressful and isolating time of realising you are losing both senses. It’s not something people should have to cope with alone.”
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