The effects of an extended lockdown

The start of a new year usually evokes enthusiasm and positivity in us. However, this year has started out on a bad note with the COVID-19 pandemic taking over news headlines. It’s hard to stay upbeat when we are constantly reminded of the death rates rising exponentially. Not to mention with forever changing restrictions, all the things we previously took for granted such as seeing loved ones, going on holiday, visiting the gym and engaging in celebrations are all suspended in time—and no one knows when things will return to normal, if ever. Everybody has been affected by COVID-19 in one way or another and people’s experiences of the lockdowns have been unique—some positive, some negative and others catastrophic or life changing. The uncertainty and isolation the coronavirus brings with it will have a greater effect on the vulnerable during winter, says charities. We are currently facing a mental health crisis here in the UK and around the world as governments and agencies struggle to deal with the monumental effects of the pandemic. According to Mind, one in four of us will have a mental health problem every year. With the pandemic placing further strain on our mental wellbeing, these figures could double, affecting those who have never suffered from mental health issues before and triggering others with pre-existing mental health conditions. What types of issues are we struggling with as a nation?

Loneliness
There are several triggers to loneliness, such as bereavement, divorce, single parenting and sudden changes. Having a mental health condition can leave you feeling lonely the same way being lonely can cause poor mental health.

Anxiety
Many causes contribute to a person being diagnosed with anxiety such as death, bullying or work stress. When these situations are resolved, most people’s lives return to normal, no longer suffering from the disorder. However, certain people diagnosed with an anxiety condition can suffer for long periods throughout their lives. Sudden or ongoing changes like COVID-19 can impact all types of anxiety.

Depression
Many factors lead to depression such as stressful events, personality, family history and giving birth. Depression’s effects manifest in different ways but a few common signs of depression are feeling low, low self-esteem and the inability to engage in activities.

Social Isolation
Social isolation can cause anxiety, stress, cognitive decline, sleep and eating disorders. The longer someone feels isolated, the greater risk they have at experiencing the mental health effects of being in the situation.

Suicide and suicidal thoughts
Social isolation is a major risk factor of suicide and associated with suicidal ideation and self-harm. Other factors that lead to suicide are mood disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, history of trauma and abuse, job or financial loss, prior suicide attempts and family history of suicide. During COVID-19 lockdowns, it is so much harder for families and loved ones to detect the warning signs of suicide.

If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the above, it is paramount that you seek out professional help as what I have listed above are extremely basic definitions of mental health conditions. There are many types in each category, for example, there are dozens of variants in depression and anxiety. There are as many issues as there are people and the list is endless. No one is exempt from mental health difficulties, even people who have never struggled before can be prone to experiencing them in current societal conditions. However, certain categories of people are at higher risks such as young people, carers, the elderly, front-line workers and anyone with a pre-existing mental health condition. What can we do to safeguard ourselves and the people we care for? I will list a few tips that may benefit us all to stay mentally well in these difficult times.

  • Avoid speculation on current affairs and only look up reputable sources on the outbreak as rumours can fuel anxiety.
  • Reduce screen time as too much time spent listening to news announcements can consume us negatively. Excess time spent on social media can induce fear or cause us to compare our lives to people more privileged than us.
  • Follow advice and guidelines as they have been devised by professionals to serve us for the betterment of our wellbeing.
  • Stay connected. Check on others and lend a hand where possible.
  • Keep busy, focus on what you can do and try to remain optimistic for the future.
  • Keep active as regular exercise and a healthy diet is paramount to emotional wellbeing.

If none of the above are helping and you are struggling, then it may be time to ask for help. There are various options available to you.
You can tell a family member or friend how you are feeling, call a helpline or speak to a professional.

What to expect from a mental health professional?
First, it is important to know that there is nothing to be afraid of as most mental health professionals are ordinary people just like you and I. Everything you share with a therapist is confidential except for extreme matters that require immediate attention such as child abuse, terrorism, murder or suicide.

Once you have decided that you would like to speak to someone about the way you are feeling, you must become proactive. Your doctor can put you in touch with steps to increase your wellbeing which is an NHS free service but please be mindful of the possibility of a waiting list. Additionally, you will only receive six sessions. You can search online to find a therapist nearby that you can afford. Some therapists work on a sliding scale of fees to make their services more affordable but not everyone is so generous.

Once you have found the right counsellor, you can either have face-to-face, telephone, Zoom or Skype appointments on a weekly basis till you feel ready to end the counselling.

It is crucial to remember that there is no shame in asking for help at any time in your life as we all struggle at some point, with or without COVID-19.