A lot of planning and care has gone into making the health and social care system in Oxfordshire much more resilient this year.

The county’s winter director, Oxford Health’s own Tehmeena Ajmal, has made it clear that we all need a winter plan to keep us safe and well during these cold, dark and now icy months.

Most of the work has centred around people’s physical wellbeing, with a flu jab campaign, lots of tips on ‘being prepared’, sound advice on how you should deal with a physical emergency and great ways of looking out for friends and neighbours who may be in need.

But what of people’s mental wellbeing? We do know that isolation can make some mental health issues worse and the lack of interaction with the outside world that can be harder for people in winter because the days are short, and the weather is bad.

Mental health is a year-round fact of life that doesn’t care whether it’s a blazing hot day in July or a rainy Easter bank holiday weekend.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that a mental health problem is something ‘other people have’. It’s not.  Around 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem like anxiety, low mood, depression or stress in any given week.

Yet, despite how common mental health issues are, some feel unable to improve their situations.

We ignore the emotional messages that tell us something is wrong. We tell ourselves it’s ‘just the way I am’. Or we bottle things up, hoping those around us won’t notice or kid ourselves that magically get better.

For some people, especially the older generation, experiencing mental health issues is associated with stigma. This stigma means they don’t want to ask, they don’t know what to do, what to say and find it all embarrassing.

Stigma is there and has been around a long time, but it’s improving. There’s been a significant shift in people’s understanding, both in terms of the public and with the range of services now available, but also from legislation – people can no longer be discriminated against because they have a mental health issue.

Our focus is all about recovery: helping people to live their lives they want in their community despite their past or ongoing experiences.

Make a change

Most common issues are depression and anxiety or stress or a combination of them. Once you understand what they are and what you are experiencing, you can begin to deal with it.

Are you managing your sleep? Are you eating healthily? These lifestyle factors are important. When you feel your heart racing and you’re feeling sweaty and shaky it unlikely you are about to die.  You’re experiencing anxiety and some simple techniques will help you.

Keep busy, keep active and keep in touch with people. That’s key to keeping mentally strong this winter.

Active Oxfordshire has a range of connections that help with exercise but also with connecting with people, from sports groups to health walks. Those are the things that are so important for people. Get out and get active. It really does make a huge difference.

With physical conditions you’ve got to be creative and flexible. It might be you can’t physically get out all the time but there are other ways to connect with people. Use social media, online forums that can be helpful and instructive. It’s all about social contact. It’s crucial for people.

When a loved one develops mental health issues they and their families can feel lost. They don’t know what to do or how to get information. Talk to people, get information from Age UK, Mind, Dementia UK.

Have you looked at psychological therapies programmes like TalkingSpace Plus? Have you looked at the fantastic resources available online to help you manage things and help you stay in control?

Oxfordshire is blessed with a range of services from the very prescribed and structured through to the more casual.

Use our services

Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership (OMHP) formally brings together six local mental health organisations from the NHS and the charity sector.

They are Oxford Health, Oxfordshire Mind, Response, Restore, Elmore Community Services and Connection Floating Support. Some focus on clinical and therapeutic approaches, whilst others provide housing and other support.

One service we provide with Oxfordshire Mind is TalkingSpace Plus, an easy to access talking therapies resource where our psychologists help people to deal with life’s ups and downs, feel better about themselves and learn strategies for keeping well.

Up to 1,400 people a month are helped there and it’s for anyone aged 18 and over who is registered with an Oxfordshire GP and we’ve extended opening hours this winter. It’s now open 8am to 8pm Tuesdays to Thursdays and 9am to 5pm on Mondays and Fridays.

Oxford Safe Haven is another service offering a specialised late-night safe space for people experiencing mental health crisis. It’s based in Manzil Way off Cowley Road, Oxford and is open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 6pm to 10pm.

What we are doing this winter and beyond

Oxford Health has practitioners work in a range of places throughout Oxfordshire.

There are our 10 mental health clinicians and psychiatrists in emergency departments at the John Radcliffe Hospital and Horton General Hospital providing 24/7 cover ensuring those who are in need get full psycho-social assessments, safety plans, onward referrals and signposting to other appropriate services. It’s an award-wining team that’s using iPads – technology assisted psychiatry ­- in some instances to see around 295 referrals per month.

Of those five per cent are admitted to psychiatric hospital and a quarter are referred to a mental health team for urgent care and treatment in the community.

We also have ‘street triage’ clinicians working out on patrols seven days a week with Thames Valley Police officers so that people experiencing a mental health crisis are offered appropriate advice and support, reducing the need for members of the public to be taken to a custody suite as a place of safety. We get 180 referrals each month.

Then we have control room clinicians working in the 111/999 control room and South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) urgent care hub throughout every night.

The majority of the 185 calls we deal with each month are about self-harm, suicidal thoughts or people who are distressed, have depression, low mood or anxiety.

Emergency call handlers have access to clinicians’ expertise and advice to direct patients in the most appropriate way, preventing people with a mental health need being taken by ambulance to the JR or Horton in 46% of cases. While it stops unwarranted journeys to our stretched emergency departments those who do get help and some are referred for immediate access to our crisis teams.

For more information:

TalkingSpace Plus:  01865 901222 or oxfordhealth.nhs.uk/talkingspaceplus/

Oxford Safe Haven: 01865 903037 or 07710 092849 after 5pm. Visit oxfordhealth.nhs.uk

Oxfordshire Recovery College:  01865 779 613 or visit oxfordshirerecoverycollege.org.uk