FIGURES that reveal Birkenhead contains four of the country’s “most depressed” communities have been described as “horrifying.”

But professionals have stressed work is being done around mental health to help the situation.

The areas of Bidston Hill, Tranmere, Woodchurch and Birkenhead Central were all in England’s top list for ‘highest estimated neighbourhood prevalence of depression’ – the diagnosed number of people 18 and over – in a government study released this month.

The quality of life issue in Birkenhead has been well documented in recent times, with even the east-west Wirral divide being stark.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) examined recently how life expectancy between the two averages at around 10 years.

With that in mind, the LDRS looked into what is being done across the borough to combat the problem – and whether the recent figures were to be expected.

Birkenhead’s MP Frank Field has called them “horrifying”, and has this week tabled a parliamentary question, asking the Department of Health and Social Care to look into and act on the root causes behind them.

He’s calling for a Commons debate on the matter, and has also asked the department to assess how easily people can access mental health services in the borough.

Mr Field added: “All too many people in Birkenhead are being pushed into the depths of poverty and despair. I’m seeking answers in Parliament around the difficulties that people often encounter when trying to access mental health services.

“I’m also pushing the Government on the need for firm action to address the root causes of depression and poor mental health in our town.”

Cllr Julie McManus represents the Bidston community on Wirral Council.

She said: “It was not a surprise to see those statistics, but it was very disappointing and it really saddened me.”

Cllr McManus believes the visit of far-right activist Tommy Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – set to take place this weekend, may have been prompted by the release of the figures.

He’s set to visit the Beechwood area of Bidston on Sunday, with a counter-demonstration also planned. Cllr McManus believes he will visit in a bid to exploit the situation, adding: “I think it’s because Birkenhead largely voted to Leave during Brexit, and we live in one of the most deprived communities in the area. That doesn’t mean people sign up to what he says, though.”

Cllr McManus believes the figures released by the Commons Library and published in research by the Guardian last week are a “real concern”.

But despite the desperate situation faced by some, there is work underway to turn things round, and she pointed to work being done in the community to help the deprived and impoverished.

That included the local social supermarket, which sells good-quality surplus food at heavily reduced prices, but relies on residents volunteering – some full-time.

There is also employment coming from the nearby huge Wirral Waters redevelopment project.

“What we are doing here is looking at how we can work with the community and consult with them to help counteract this problem,” she added.

She also said it was encouraging that local educational outlets such as Birkenhead Sixth Form College were performing well, which means promising prospects for the next generation.

In terms of overall ranking, Bidston Hill was second in the list based on 2017/18 data from England’s GP practices, with a ‘neighbourhood depression prevalence’ of 20.2%.

Tranmere was seventh with 18.5%, Woodchurch was in 12th with 18%, and Birkenhead Central was in 13th with 17.9%.

The top area in England was Brinnington in Stockport at 23.6%.

All areas in the top 15 were poor communities either in the Midlands or north of England, with research from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey carried out in 2014 also indicating their high levels of unemployment, bad physical health and loneliness.At the other end of the table – the lowest estimated prevalences – 12 of the 15 were in London, with all 15 in affluent areas of the south.

Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, urged the government to put more money into the most deprived parts of England, telling the Guardian: “They should be putting more money into tackling social deprivation rather than specifically putting more money into treating depression [for] housing and employment and all those things.”

Wirral Council said the issue of mental health was a “key priority” for services in the borough, and that “some areas can be harder hit than others for multiple and complex reasons”.

Julie Webster, acting director for health and wellbeing, said: “Here in Wirral, partners from the local authority, the NHS, Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), charities and mental health providers are working collectively to empower those who want or need mental health support to access it.

“I want residents to know that a range of commissioned mental health specialists and services is available to them locally, providing the holistic, wraparound support that people dealing with depression or mental ill health often require.”

The figures have been released ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, which starts on Monday, May 13.

Dr Paula Cowan, medical director of Wirral CCG told the LDRS the group “continues to increase investment in mental health services across Wirral”.

She said with the introduction of a new service, Talking Together Wirral, which launched last month, more people across Wirral are able to access vital services.

That involves confidential talking therapies for those experiencing low mood, stress or anxiety. GP referrals are also in place for those wanting to speak about how they are feeling.

Dr Cowan added: “One in four people will experience a problem with their mental wellbeing at some point in their life. Being able to access the right mental health support at an early stage can make a real difference to recovery, and can help prevent people’s mental health getting worse.

“We continue to increase investment in mental health services across Wirral, having achieved the Mental Health investment standard for the last three years.

“Our mental health services work in close collaboration with primary care and wider health and care colleagues to develop and improve access to services that meet the needs of the individual and the wider community.”