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7:31 AM 7th October 2020

Mental Health During A Pandemic

How are you today? Even without the added strain of Covid-19, it can be a challenge to maintain good mental wellbeing. There are so many pressures and responsibilities to deal with.

For those who have ongoing mental health problems, this can be worsened by feeling overwhelmed and isolated. For those who have never experienced poor mental health, the big changes that have come about as a consequence of Coronavirus can result in mental illness. For example, worrying about family that you can’t visit, dealing with changes to your routine or not being in control of what is happening.

This is not a sign of weakness. Just as we are all susceptible to physical illness, our minds are vulnerable to situations that are challenging or out of our control.

Just like a computer holding too much information with files placed in the wrong folders, we need to allow ourselves time to defrag, to let our brains adjust to the changes and uncertainty that we are experiencing.

“Anxiety and depression don’t show so the outside world thinks we’re ok. A lot of us try to hide it and still don’t talk about it."

The first thing is to acknowledge that there is a problem with our mental health. Although it is known that we are formed of body and mind, too often mental illness is considered a weakness. It is the resulting stigma and discrimination that prevents people with poor mental health talking to someone. They may say that they are fine when really they are not.

The necessary first step of asking for help is prevented by feeling ashamed and the fear of being wrongly judged. “Anxiety and depression don’t show so the outside world thinks we’re ok. A lot of us try to hide it and still don’t talk about it." When someone is mentally unwell, their confidence and courage are low. With the added pressure of unjustified stigma, they do not take the essential step of talking openly about what they are experiencing and getting help.

In the worst case scenario, this can lead to someone ending their life. It is likely that the signs that they are mentally unwell were there - being withdrawn, unexpected changes in routine, loss of interest, substance misuse.

We are all encouraged to learn basic medical first aid to save a life. We learn the signs and symptoms and methods to help someone who is physically unwell or injured. In the case of mental illness, we can also learn to read the signs – to know when someone is struggling and understand how to reach out. If we do this without stigma, we can ask the right questions, listen to the answers without making unhelpful comments and guide someone to professional support.

During the pandemic, it has been inspiring how many people have shown amazing acts of kindness and compassion to others – often towards people they have never met before. This gives us confidence that the same acts of kindness can be shown towards people with poor mental health. This will ensure that these potentially life-saving conversations become as natural as talking about our physical health. “It’s good to talk with people rather than bottling things up.”

It is estimated that 1 in 4 people suffer from poor mental health over the course of a year.

Everyone has a part to play in ending stigma and discrimination in mental illness. We will all benefit from mental health being an accepted part of who we are.

When asked the question ‘how are you?’ we can give an honest answer, without fear of the questioner backing off, making light of the situation or trying to change the subject.

If you have faced mental health stigma, either recently or in the past, please join North Yorkshire Time to Change – a network of individuals and groups with the shared message that it is good to talk. Together we can get more conversations started across the county.

If you have never experienced poor mental health, learn more about mental illness and how to support people. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people suffer from poor mental health over the course of a year. This is likely to have increased due to Coronavirus. We are all susceptible to mental illness just as we are to physical illness. None of us are immune to becoming mentally unwell and, as this pandemic has shown, life is full of potential triggers.

Learning about mental health enables us to be prepared to help others and to help ourselves should the need arise.