Local charity St Peters House has seen a significant spike in demand for its counselling services, with a high number of individuals presenting with anxiety from financial pressures, stress, uncertainty due to the pandemic, or relationship issues.
Since schools reopened, they have also seen an increase in young people experiencing severe anxiety, self-harming or struggling with thoughts of suicide.
St Peters House Manager Cath Page says while demand is always high for their counselling services, the post-lockdown wave of referrals was overwhelming.
"We were operating as usual up until March, and over lockdown we continued our counselling services using Zoom and telephone. We had a reduced number of referrals which was good as it gave us a chance to catch up and work through our waiting lists. But as soon as we were out of lockdown, referrals came flooding in, and we were completely overwhelmed. They were up by 200%."
With waiting lists that continue to grow, Cath says it can be difficult asking people to wait.
"Our waiting lists have been closed for a number of weeks as we work through them, but we hope to open them up again before Christmas. It can be really hard when you receive a call from someone where we are their last resort, telling them we cannot see them for two months."
Despite the demand, Cath says she is concerned the worst may be yet to come.
"We've had the wage subsidy, emergency housing, and extra food support propping us up for most of this year. While those have all been necessary, as those supports are slowly taken away, I wonder how people will still be able to cope. There is a significant financial impact still to come. Our clients are the ones on the lower incomes, in less secure work, and they will need our support more than ever."
St Peters House provides a range of services for those who are financially vulnerable, with most being donation-based. These include individual and couple counselling, debt management, and courses in marriage, parenting, life skills and personal development.
They work to support people through their life challenges, to see them living debt-free, free from abuse, parenting with excellence, engaged in the community and making positive life choices.
Although they welcome self-referrals, they also receive referrals from government agencies, hospital and medical services, mental health and disability services, ECE and schools, and other social service providers.
Cath says their programmes have been incredibly valuable for people post-lockdown, and encourages people to sign up to get the support they need to make a real difference in their lives.
"Our CAP Debt Help programme supports those who are in unmanageable debt. Since Covid, we have seen a lot of people with debt building up, and income coming in that isn't able to cover the things they need, such as rent, food and clothing. The service is free, with Debra, our Christians Against Poverty Centre Manager, visiting a client's home to learn about their situation, family and debts. This information is then sent onto the CAP head office who put together a budget and negotiate with creditors.
"It's all about giving people the tools to pay off debts with their own money, learn how to budget and how to manage their finances into the future. We recommend people give Christians Against Poverty a free call on 0508 227 111 to discuss."
St Peters House was grateful to receive a boost in funding earlier this year from the WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund, which has been helping them get through to December.
The $14,000 grant from the fund, established by local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council, has allowed St Peters House to increase their capacity with extended contracts and counsellor hours.
Cath says the grant has enabled them to keep up with demand, despite uncertainties around funding.
"The Recovery funding was so incredibly helpful. Funding comes out at different times of the year, so it can be hard to set a budget without knowing the outcome of all your different applications. Then Covid made that even more uncertain, with many funders putting their funding on hold.
"We were looking at having to reduce our counselling hours to match what we knew was our guaranteed funding. Demand was going up, income was potentially going down, and we weren't sure what we were going to do.
"Knowing we had that Recovery funding meant we could commit to extending the counsellors' hours at least for that six months to get us through to Christmas. Of course we don't want to be reducing our hours for next year, and now we are applying to as many funders as we can to keep going and do more."
Acorn Foundation General Manager Lori Luke says the funding has gone a long way to supporting our community's mental health.
"This phase of our COVID-19 funding support aims to enable the longer-term rebuild of the community sector. Ensuring community groups like St Peters House can continue their service delivery is a vital part of that.
"So many in our community are struggling with the impacts of the pandemic and lockdown, whether financially, mentally or emotionally. Having access to counselling support during this time is crucial for our community's wellbeing. We're pleased this funding has allowed St Peters House to meet the increasing community need."
To learn more about St Peters House, visit www.stpetershouse.co.nz.