Grenfell Tower fire: Counselling demand surges five years on from tragedy

Those who live near Grenfell, live with grief - but the true scale of emotional harm is hidden, as ITV News' Ria Chatterjee reports.

Words by ITV News Senior Producer Roohi Hasan

An ITV News investigation has discovered counselling demand is rising five years on from the tragic fire at Grenfell tower, which claimed 72 lives and left hundreds of others homeless.

The rise is particularly sharp among children and teenagers. 

While the fight for justice and the ongoing inquiry often make headlines over the years, the inner struggle for peace is often hidden.

For the fifth anniversary ITV News has been investigating the physical and mental health toll the tragedy has had on survivors, and the bereaved who witnessed the fire as loved ones died.

Nacera Silarbi, senior counsellor and coordinator at Al Manaar Centre near Grenfell, who’s been working with the community told ITV News exclusively that demand for counselling has "leapfrogged", especially among children and teenagers.

Her biggest concern is she believes even more people are in need but are not coming forward due to stigma and cultural reasons, as well as a general lack of awareness that their symptoms are as a result of the fire.

Nacera's workplace has started a new service offering counselling to young people in light of the increased demand.

She played a key role in the immediate support that night and since and has been the counsellor for many in the community over the years.  

ITV News spoke to senior counsellor Nacera Silarbi. Credit: ITV News

Nacera says the initial responses were about containment as so many were in shock. Whereas now, many are realising what they are going through is as a result of the fire five years ago and are coming forward for longer term help.

She highlights that this anniversary will be a trigger for many, as for some even mentioning the name makes them shake.

Munira Mahmud and her family are survivors. She told ITV News she is mentally and emotionally still affected and hits rock bottom more than ever because her family are trying to accept their new environment and home, as well as the events of that night.

Hassan tells his parents He tells his parents 'if we didn’t wake up in time we would have been dead'. Credit: ITV News

"I don’t know anyone who survived and is not haunted. It is not easy. I have an auto-immune disorder and the doctor said it is the body keeping score. I had a baby last year and couldn’t pick her up or go upstairs. I had double vision and was choking on my own saliva," Munira said.

After speaking to her doctor she discovered it was because of her stress and PTSD from Grenfell.

Munira says other than cooking, nothing else helps.  

She is also distraught that her son is still having nightmares. Hassan, her first born, was five-years-old when the family escaped the fire.

Hassan, now 10, tells his parents that "if we didn’t wake up in time we would have been dead". He says he knows his friends are in heaven but misses them. 

Hassan Rasoul, was just five when he escaped the fire. Credit: ITV News

Some Grenfell survivors did not want to appear on camera, so ITV News carried out an anonymous survey of those affected. The survey revealed that little had changed in the five years since the fire.

One said: "I have not slept a single night that dreadful night. I wake every hour or couple of hours."

Another described how "words can’t explain how I’m still living after what I am experiencing in these five years… and I’m still stuck in this position to this day."

A third said: "(I feel) disconnected from society, anxious flashbacks and still having nightmares."

The survey also revealed the wide range of physical and mental problems that many are going through:

  • Depression, anxiety, low mood, disconnection bad nightmares.

  • Fever, dizziness and cough.   

  • Stomach issues accelerated due to stress.  

  • Lower back pain, injury to right knee.   

  • PTSD psychotic episode, sleeplessness, night terrors, flashbacks.

  • Breathing issues, kidney disease, asthma.    

Nacera has an appeal to those in the community in need of support but reluctant to come forward: "I would say Al Manaar counselling service is here, whenever you are ready to come, but you are not alone, you don’t need to suffer in silence".

Where you can go for help

The Grenfell Foundation was set up following the Grenfell Tower fire and provides independent support and advocacy for the former residents of Grenfell Tower and the bereaved families and dependents.

You can contact them by emailing info@grenfellfoundation.org.uk.

The Al-Manaar Counselling Service was established in 2017 in response to the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. It works with the Together for Grenfell Project (TGP) to make the service accessible to children and families affected by the Grenfell fire.

Samaritans provides round the clock support for people when they need it most.

You can call them 24 hours a day on 116 123. They also have tips if you're concerned about someone you know, and advice if you're struggling yourself.

Mind provides advice and support to help anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They also campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

You can call them Monday to Friday between 9am and 6pm on 0300 123 3393. You can also text them on 86463.