A LOOMING mental health crisis could become an ‘emergency within the emergency’, health chiefs have warned.

With the UK preparing to enter its tenth month of living under coronavirus restrictions, fears are mounting over the impact this has had on the country’s workers and the knock on damage it could do to the economy.

But bosses at Durham County Council hope they will be able to support smaller firms with a new set of guidelines to help monitor their staff’s wellbeing.

“We’ve identified additional needs arising from the pandemic, many of which are born disproportionately by our local businesses and voluntary organisations,” said Mick Shannon, a public health advanced practitioner at Durham County Council.

“We first heard this coming from Italy [early in the pandemic], where people talked about mental health being the emergency within the emergency.

“As businesses, residents and populations work hard to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 we’re beginning to see more and more mental health issues emanating from many of these restrictions are coming to the fore.”

He added: “None of us suffer in isolation.”

Mr Shannon was speaking at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the county council’s health and wellbeing board, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

The council’s ‘framework for good workforce mental health in County Durham businesses’ is aimed at firms with less than 250 employees, which are less likely to have access to the type of human resources (HR) support on offer at bigger companies.

They are also more likely to struggle if a worker is forced into a long term absence due to mental health pressures.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show almost one in five adults are experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic; this has almost doubled from around 1 in 10 before the pandemic.

Statistics also show one in eight adults have developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms during the crisis.

Amanda Healy, the council’s director of public health, also warned about the possible consequences of a rise in drinking, which is the subject of an ongoing public awareness campaign.

Nationally, 8.4 million people are thought to be drinking at ‘higher risk levels’ – almost double the level in February of this year.

Ms Healy said: “During the pandemic we’ve found people are drinking at higher risk levels and alcohol is being used as a coping mechanism."