There is a lot of talk about how Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown cycles are causing a mental health crisis in the UK. This blog aims to unpack and list some of the reasons why the response to the pandemic is also causing a mental health epidemic amongst us.
This year has been very hard on most of us, personally and professionally. I don’t think I have come across anyone who has not been negatively impacted by the pandemic and resulting lockdown cycles since last March. The pandemic and deaths resulting from Covid-19 are only one aspect of this crisis. The efforts to avoid death and transmission, not overwhelm the health service, and its resulting policies, in conjunction with how the Covid narrative is portrayed in the media, is what is driving the mental health crisis.
Before the pandemic hit, we were already living and dealing with normal day to day challenges linked with work, relationships, raising children, making decisions, caring for relatives, ageing and death, etc, etc. As psychotherapists, we listen to and work with these challenges everyday. The pandemic has added another layer to pre-existing issues in society, exacerbating them for everyone through the fear of death, loss, survival and health anxieties, to name a few issues which are both specifically linked to the pandemic but also issues to do with being human.
It has even become difficult to distinguish whether some of the difficulties experienced are linked to Covid or not. For instance, relationship issues which were pre-existing became exacerbated during lockdown and having to work together to home school children. Or someone with an already high level of health anxiety becomes even more anxious about becoming infected with Covid and isolates themselves even further from others.
There was a big drive to bring more awareness to mental health issues in UK society before any of us even heard of Covid-19. A large number of people were already experiencing pressures on their mental health through a variety of factors, which have now become more exacerbated through the fear of death and transmission, confinement at home, business closures, lack of outlet with entertainment venues, cafes, leisure and restaurants closed.
We have lost a large proportion of our social connections due to not being able to meet socially and professionally as we used to. Even small daily exchanges which used to make us feel more socially connected have been taken away, such as a visit to a local shop or the hairdresser.
The list is endless: Professionals who derive their identity and social contacts through work and running their businesses and had to close them, the elderly who were already lonely and have now become even more isolated, workers in the gig economy who were already struggling to survive and are now out of work, parents who were already under pressure and now have to home school as well. The list goes on…
It is vital that enough mental health support is available. In my work as a therapist, I acknowledge the collective impact in society yet focus on how it affects people on an individual level. We are all fighting our own battles at the moment, each one is dealing with a separate set of challenges pertinent to their life circumstances. It is vital for us to acknowledge and talk about what is troubling us and not just “get through”.
Sam Jahara is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist, Transactional Analyst and Superviser with a special interest in working with issues linked to cultural identity and a sense of belonging. She works with individuals and couples in Hove and Lewes.
Further reading by Sam Jahara