SUNDERLAND is the depression capital of England.
The city has more depressed residents than anywhere else in the country, with one in five Wearsiders suffering from the condition.
City mental health charities, over-run with people seeking help, are now bracing themselves for worse to come.
A Mental Health Profile of Sunderland report shows that more than 20 per cent of Wearsiders over the age of 18 are dealing with depression – the highest percentage in England.
Sunderland Mind, based in Norfolk Street, is now seeing 350 people coming through its doors every month with a range of mental health problems.
Of these 350, an estimated 200 are citing financial concerns as a major contributor to their poor state of mind.
Concerns are growing that sweeping benefits changes due to be introduced next month will only contribute further to the deteriorating mental health picture across the city.
Yet, despite the gloomy outlook, support charities say they are having their funding slashed. During the past three years, Sunderland Mind has seen a cut of £12,000.
“But we are seeing more people coming through the doors than ever before,” says Dorothy Gardiner, project manager.
And those people are often in a desperate state of mind according to counsellors, with many turning to alcohol and drugs to deal with problems, while others are taking excessive amounts of anti-depressants or, in some circumstances, attempting suicide.
Sunderland Mind currently employs eight paid staff and 23 volunteers, but says this is not enough to keep up with all those in need. And that’s bearing in mind a lot of people in the city don’t know where they can access support - so the real picture will be a lot worse.”
Huge changes to the Council Tax Benefit system, the introduction of benefit caps and Universal Credit, along with scrapping of the Disability Living Allowance in favour of Personal Independence Payment, are set to transform the welfare system.
These changes will affect thousands of Wearsiders but many, already in a precarious financial position, could find themselves unable to cope.
Mrs Gardiner said: “We are already seeing more people coming in because they’ve been made unemployed, we are getting referrals from the city’s Jobcentre because it is affecting their mental health.
“People are losing their homes and, in some cases, they are taking their own lives.”
Jean Walker, volunteer and counselling coordinator, said: “Many feel uncomfortable actually telling their employers they are suffering from a mental health problem due to stigmas that are still attached to this type of thing.
“It’s important to remember that people’s mental health also affects people’s physical health.”
l For more information, call Sunderland Mind on 565 7218, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sunderlandmind.co.uk.