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What have we learned about our mental health over the last year

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Published 22/03/2021
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On March 23rd there will be a national day of reflection as we mark the anniversary of lockdown one. I remember it all so well. The dread and panic spreading through the office in the weeks before, will we work from home? Hushed management meetings named ‘disaster recovery’ that made us all feel anxious not knowing what might happen in the coming days. And the news. 24 hour news cycles striking fear into our hearts and minds. It’s fair to say in the last year and a bit we’ve all made some memories we never thought we would. So how has this last year impacted our mental health and what have we learned about ourselves since the first lockdown?

The impact of lockdowns on mental health

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As we emerge from lockdown three, I reflect back on that first lockdown with somewhat rose tinted glasses as it felt much easier than this recent lockdown, perhaps as we did not know what to expect the first time. There is still no doubt though that long periods of not seeing friends and family had a huge impact on many of us. Personally, I was dreading cutting myself off from the world and found it tough going. I was surprised by my resilience and after a few bad days and lots of catastrophising in the beginning, I settled into a lockdown routine. I was lucky in that I was not furloughed. A work routine saved me.

For many though lockdown meant they were unable to work or unable to get to the appointments they would usually have. In particular those reliant on community addiction, recovery and mental health services found those services reduced and support not as readily available. This could lead to the use of negative coping mechanisms, no matter how harmful in the long term, just to see you through the day. Some have said there will be a mental health pandemic once we are over this latest lockdown and I will signpost some organisations that can help if you’re reading this and feel you need some support.
In a document published in June 2020 ‘The mental health emergency - How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted our mental health’,

Habiba Khan, member of the charity Mind, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has caused exceptionally challenging and worrying times for each and every one of us. The effects of social distancing, lockdown, the loss of loved ones to the virus and the over-consumption of stress-inducing media reports is taking a huge toll on our mental health and wellbeing; and will continue to have lasting effects long after lockdown is over. “

As the year progressed and we entered this third lockdown, so our resilience and optimism was pushed to the limit. This third lockdown has seen schools up their game in their expectation of our ability to 'homeschool’ often whilst juggling work and younger children. It being winter has not helped. The long dark nights crept into our front rooms as we worked away, wishing we could have seen daylight that day; even the dreaded commute was longed for as it got us up and going on the cold, frosty mornings. But here we are now, we survived, we did it, not long to hold out now.

What have we learned about ourselves since the first lockdown?

Resilience, strength, hope, perspective and how to support ourselves and others in a crisis. We also learned that we can get by without physical contact if we have to, but we definitely missed people and cannot wait to meet up with them soon.

It doesn't matter if you felt some of these, all of these or none of these. We are almost through the worst of it and can now reflect back on how and if we coped whilst focussing on how we get better for the future. It might be that you’re feeling anxious about going back into the world as it was before, that’s okay too. I know a lot of people who are now worried about being back in the office or getting close to people outside of the home, it’s a normal reaction after the year we have had and help is available to support you with this.

No matter what shape your mental health is in now it is never too late to reach out for help. You’re a survivor, we are all survivors at different stages in our battle: ‘We are in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat’.

Where can I get help with my mental health?

The NHS website nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/ is a good place to start. They have compiled a list of charities and organisations that are ready to help and understand the complex needs of individuals and our differing experiences of lockdown and self isolation.

Mind is also a great first step to getting the help you may need.

If you suffered a bereavement in lockdown The Good Grief Trust is an umbrella charity for a large number of local and national grief support charities.

You can always talk to your local GP who can put you in touch with local support, or if you feel you are in a crisis right now, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123, check out their website for other ways to contact them here: samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/.

I wrote a blog at the start of lockdown, on the day we packed up our laptops and commenced working from home, about my fears of self isolation, you can read it here: funeral-notices.co.uk/blog/self-isolation-and-mental-health

It seems appropriate to end this blog on a similar note:
We are all in this together. Most of us are not used to staying home and for some people this may be their first ever feelings of anxiety or stress. Know you're not alone, none of us are and this situation, though unknown, will not last forever.
Take care of yourself and support one another as best you can.
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