The COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen entire countries locked down, many millions infected, hospitalised, and over a million sadly dying, has inevitably led to a large amount of people suffering from mental health problems. And the situation is not going to get better.
Looking to the future: mental health needs
One study by the Centre for Mental Health (October 2020) has predicted that almost 20% of the UK population, or 10 million people, will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of COVID-19.
This includes those suffering from moderate to severe anxiety or depression, caused or exacerbated by isolation, quarantine or bereavement following the loss of a close relative, especially when, as in many cases, they could not accompany the loved one in their final moments, or attend their funeral.
Additionally, those who have suffered from the disease, with its raft of different symptoms, are often left feeling anxious and depressed.
In addition, it is estimated that one-fifth of those who were ventilated while in intensive care units in hospital will suffer from PTSD.
Those who develop symptoms of mental ill-health, or see their conditions worsen, will have a long-term need for treatment in the future. This will last well beyond the virus being brought under control, thanks to the use of vaccines, and eventually eradicated.
Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes says:
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have been monitoring the impact on mental health and the lives of people with mental health difficulties. We have identified the risks and the unequal impacts of Covid-19 on both mental and physical health. The extent of the crisis is becoming clearer every day.
There is a rising tide of distress that will over time require effective and compassionate care and support.”
With the new lockdown in the UK (and other countries likely to follow), many people will, again, be feeling isolated and lonely, or afraid of confronting and dealing with these emotions.
Others may be suffering from stress due to the loss of their job, or reduced income. Many will be working from home, with children to home-school.
Sometimes, these feelings can become overwhelming and lead to anxiety and depression.
Living through a pandemic may trigger the memory of trauma, and some people may use maladaptive behaviours to try and cope, like drinking, drug-using, gambling and other methods of self-narcotising. Addicts, after time spent in recovery, may revert to their former addiction.
“Social isolation is one of the most important factors contributing to drug-taking behaviour,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the US’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“People have become isolated; they’ve lost their jobs; they don’t feel meaningful. To that extent, right now, the economic situation is being markedly, negatively affected by COVID-19. People are losing their jobs, and they are basically not able to interact with others in their communities.” (US News 2.4.20)
For those who are locked down, and unable to leave their house to socialise in any form, it is important to maintain contact with the outside world, in order to avoid falling into depression.
This is equally important whether you are alone, or isolating with family. You will need contact with other people outside your own household group.
For some people, social distancing has led them to reduce their contact with people, while others have withdrawn from the outside world out of fear, in a self-protective mode.
Coping strategies for lockdown: going out…
The most basic strategy for coping with isolation during lockdown, if you can, is to get out.
Changing your environment by going outdoors, whether in your garden, in the street, or in a park, in in the countryside, is of huge benefit both physically and emotionally. If it’s sunny, even better!
Some people find that a run or a cycle ride, depending on your fitness level, and the restrictions where you live, does wonders for clearing their mind and boosting their mood.
For others, tending plants in a garden or on a terrace or balcony can provide a welcome distraction.
… and staying in
In today’s online world, there is a raft of ways to find company, interaction, engagement and support – not all of them immediately obvious.
In terms of staying at home, if you’re alone, try to have contact (non-physical, obviously) with someone every day.
But even if you are with your own family, then it’s still important to talk to other people outside your own household (and equally so for your other family members).
Video calls with friends and non/household family members are ideal, whether a scheduled group via Zoom or a spontaneous one-to-one with FaceTime or WhatsApp. Seeing another person’s face makes the communication more meaningful and satisfying, thanks to facial expressions.
Failing that, hearing someone’s voice by phone is also a way to break isolation and find companionship.
Many institutions and associations offer free online talks, webinars and discussions on a huge range of subjects that you can join, which are a no-pressure way of feeling more engaged – you can listen, and comment if you like, or not.
Music can transport us to a happier place – many free concerts and other performances are available online, either to stream live, or afterwards, as well as musicians who perform sets on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram.
Join an online choir – singing has been proved to have positive effects on the mood, reducing stress and releasing oxytocin and endorphins (it can also boost your immunity)
Why not find a group of like-minded people on Facebook? You can share experiences and ask for advice in support groups – finding those suffering similar problems can be helpful, as can offering your own advice and hard-learned experience to help others.
This applies additionally to geographically-based groups, or by nationality if you live away from your home country.
Keep your mind active by doing an online course, such as learning a new language. This will offer a sense of great achievement and personal satisfaction.
In terms of helping yourself by modifying your own responses, you can try self-regulation. “Someone who has good emotional self-regulation has the ability to keep their emotions in check. They can resist impulsive behaviours that might worsen their situation, and they can cheer themselves up when they’re feeling down,” says Andrea Bell from GoodTherapy.org.
If none of these strategies, or any others that you may have used in the past, are working for you, then why not contact Camino Recovery?