As we approach Mental Health Day on 10 October, with its focus on ‘Mental Health for All’, I wanted to talk about this in light of some of the challenges we are all facing at this uncertain time.
We all have mental health, and it’s just as important as our physical wellbeing, but there has long been a stigma attached to mental health problems. Some people feel uncomfortable talking about it – but it is vital to acknowledge and be open about how you are feeling.
This has never been more true than now, when - according to the Centre for Mental Health - up to 10 million people in England could need help with their mental health because of the pandemic. Nick O’Shea at the charity commented: “Covid-19 has been a disaster for every country that has been badly affected, and the consequences for our mental health are just as severe.”
Good mental health, sometimes called ‘emotional health’ or ‘wellbeing’, isn’t simply the absence of a diagnosable mental health problem. It is about how you cope with life and make the most of your potential. It’s also about whether you can play a full part in your family, workplace and community. Being mentally healthy means you can feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions, it helps you deal with change and the unknown.
Everyone is different, and although we all have times when we feel low, stressed or anxious, most of the time those feelings pass. But sometimes they can develop into a more serious problem – and that could happen to any one of us at any time. Our mental health isn’t static, it changes with the circumstances and stages of our life.
The restrictions brought about by the pandemic, and anxiety about catching the virus, have heightened existing mental health issues for some people, and put support services under increased pressure. Rates of depression doubled in June 2020 compared to July 2019, affecting one in five people, rather than one in ten.
This is extremely worrying when we know that suicide rates are rising, and it remains the biggest killer of men under 45. In our social distancing efforts to reduce the spread of Covid-19, feelings of isolation have also increased. According to a survey of UK adults, one in four said they had feelings of loneliness during lockdown compared to one in ten people previously. Young people aged 18 to 24 were particularly hard-hit - before lockdown 16 per cent reported feeling lonely, during lockdown it was almost half (44 per cent).
Those of us with young children have also had new challenges. Home schooling, limited contact with family and friends, as well as children sensing the uncertainty and concern amongst adults, have brought difficulties. Now, more than ever, parenting is about doing the best we can with what we have. We have had to strike a balance, giving clear and honest explanations of what is happening and encouraging open conversation. Explaining to a child what it means to be vulnerable, and how this is not a weakness but a natural response to uncertainty and being emotionally exposed, is very important. While we can take many positives from enjoying time together in family activities, it is also key to provide ways for everyone to have their own space when they need it.
Change and loss is something that is affecting all of us – loss of personal freedoms, daily routines, economic security and social contact. More tragically, some of us may also be coping with the death of someone we love. Loss can shake our world – someone or something that was part of our life, that we depended on, is no longer there. Whatever your loss, it’s personal to you, so don’t feel ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it’s somehow only appropriate to grieve for certain things. Whatever the cause of your grief, though, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain, and support services that can guide you in coming to terms with it.
It is important for all of us to focus on, and invest in, our mental health. We can help ourselves by staying connected with people and maintaining healthy relationships - even if many have to be virtual at the moment. Our physical health has a big impact on how we feel emotionally, and it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour at times like this. Healthy diets, regular exercise and good quality sleep can all contribute to lifting our mood and clearing our minds.
It is human nature to dwell on the past, or worry about the future. However, it helps to focus on the ‘now’ and take one day, or even one moment, at a time. Mindfulness – continually bringing our attention back to the present moment and reconnecting with our bodies and sensations rather than living ‘in our heads’ – is a very useful tool. It can bring more calm, self-awareness and simplicity to our lives. Mindfulness can also make us less resistant to change, learning to accept that some things are beyond our control and becoming more comfortable with that.
There are many helpful resources available, a handful of which are listed below, please do reach out to someone if you are struggling.
Candid conversations have never been more important.
- Mind- a mental health charity that provides a wealth of online resources.
- Zero Suicide Alliance- a collaboration of NHS trusts, charities and individuals that believe suicide is preventable. They offer online training on how to help someone in a crisis.
- Shout 85285– you can confidentially text a trained volunteer at any time.
- CALM – particular focus on male mental health issues. Offer an online webchat and a confidential helpline.
- Samaritans – offer a support helpline 24/7, 365 days a year, plus an email service.
- Headspace – mindfulness and meditation