How much has the outbreak of COVID-19 affected the mental health of our population and what can you do if you start to notice these changes in yourself?
2020 has been a year filled with fear, uncertainty and worry. So it’s only natural that our minds are now working in fight or flight mode, preparing for the next government announcement, loss of your job or not being able to see your loved ones yet again. It’s exhausting on our minds and bodies to live in this constant ‘ready for action’ state, like an army poised for battle at all times.
But for some, this worry is so much more than a niggling thought or a bad day. 1 in 4 of us here in the UK suffer from mental health issues. From anxiety and depression to disordered eating, it is becoming more common that people are diagnosed with these issues. As stated by the World Health Organisation, “Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental, as well as our physical, health.” But how much has the outbreak of COVID-19 affected the mental health of our population and what can you do if you start to notice these changes in yourself?
Mind, a charity dedicated to supporting the mental health of our nation, 60% of adults have admitted to their mental health suffering as a result of the current pandemic, but 1 in 4 young adults are being failed at the referral stage by their GP under our current government (1). During this pandemic, support has declined even further.
The Moses Project in Stockton, an amazing charity supporting food poverty, homelessness and mental health of men in our area, discussed with me the difficulties their clients currently face. For many, the day to day worries of life can be difficult enough, worrying about supporting themselves and simply living day to day. However currently, support in some many areas has been cut leading the charity to need more support than ever. The COVID government packages, while supporting the hospitality industry and many other areas, fell short of supporting the charities who need it the most meaning that hundreds of people who rely on them are now struggling. I asked them the biggest worry of their clients in the current circumstances to which they replied simply ‘jobs’. A lot of their clients have severe anxiety and depression from not being able to find work and support themselves and often their children, and in the current climate with businesses closing and furlough ending this is escalating to the level not seen since we lost our industry in this area. The worry is that this anxiety and depression may lead clients into addiction when they can’t access the help they need.
As a sufferer of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and by no means a professional in this field, I would say the most important thing you can do is talk. Whether it’s to your partner, a family member, a friend or getting professional help via your GP or privately, talking to someone and acknowledging your feelings out loud is one of the most powerful and important things you can do and is the first step to recovery. I was only diagnosed with my disorder this year, having been told for years that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and after only one therapy session I feel so much better. I describe my anxiety as a bee hive in my head. Some days the buzzing is gentle, the worry is always there but it’s quiet. But on a bad day, it’s loud and all encompassing and stops me from focusing on anything else. But during lockdown and in the aftermath, the buzzing just became too much for me and I knew I needed help. My partner and my family are amazing and talk to me whenever I need them, but I needed someone emotionally detached from me to give me some impartial perspective. Don’t wait for the next sleepless night or the next panic attack, access help now and make a conscious decision to change your life. As my partner says to me, turn that swarming hive into cute fuzzy bumblebees, always there but manageable and no longer terrifying. Professional help at this time is hard to come by, but utilise who is around you to get through this difficult time.
For help via our NHS, contact your GP and make an appointment. They can look into options for you such as counselling and medication as well as CBT. However if you aren’t getting the help you need charities such as The Moses Project (01642 688901) and Mind (01642 615148) offer support at a local level or if you feel that you are a danger to yourself right now, you can contact The Samaritans (116 123). There are also a number of private Counsellors in our area if that option is open to you. The Tees is also compiling a directory for support options open to you.
At this time where none of these options may be possible, use those around you if you can to make those first steps. A friend, colleague or if not, write it down. My therapist tells me to write my ‘what ifs’ down and then answer them to get them out of my head and it helps on those extremely overwhelming days.
If you’re not suffering but you know someone who is, give them a call or send them a message to let them know you’re there for a chat. It could save someone’s life.
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