Tag Archives: Mental Health

Lockdown as a catalyst for togetherness

It’s mental health awareness week in the UK. Social and broadcast media are full of appeals for people to be kind to one another; to look out for one another; to talk to somebody – anybody – if you are feeling anxious, or alone or unhappy. And that is all absolutely to be applauded. For far too long, those who have struggled with poor mental health have been stigmatised and made to feel that their ill-health is somehow a sign of personal weakness or a lack of resilience. Thankfully, the whole tone of the conversation around mental health has changed. It is no longer taboo to talk about how we are feeling. We are actively encouraged to speak up if we are feeling stressed or low or having a bad patch. Funding and support for acute services for those who are most adversely affected by poor mental health is still inadequate, but it is slowly improving.

One of the big concerns around the current coronavirus crisis has been that lockdown and enforced isolation as a result of the need to socially distance or (in some cases) fully shield, will lead to a surge in demand for mental health and wellbeing support services. There is some anecdotal evidence to support this hypothesis, although it’s likely to be some time yet before we will know the full extent of the impact on overall demand for services. There is no doubt that some people will have experienced a deterioration in their mental health as a result of the interruption to contact with social support networks that is an inevitable consequence of the lockdown regulations. Interestingly, however, the lockdown may turn out to have been a good thing for young people who would normally have been completing high stakes exams in schools and universities at this time of year. With most of those exams either cancelled altogether, or downgraded insofar that their significance in calculating final degree grades or determining whether or not students progress into the next academic year has been significantly reduced, their role as a stressor has been almost completely removed. Similarly, students have almost all returned to their family homes and are now back in the social networks that are often (though not exclusively) less stressful than university or private rented accommodation.

For others, the sense of isolation that is an obvious danger of lockdown, has been mitigated by the ability to engage with family, friends and support services through any number of video call platforms across the internet and mobile phone networks. In my own experience, this has been the case with regular, weekly video calls to family members in Llanelli and Cambridge (as well as those a little closer to our home in Cardiff). Paradoxically, we have probably talked more to family members during the past eight weeks than we had done before all this. It’s another example of the profound changes that have taken place in some aspects of life during the crisis that are likely to continue in similar form afterwards. The quality, ubiquity and ease of use of these technologies is now such that the need to travel long distances to ‘see’ family and friends on the other side of the country has been significantly reduced. This is a potential win:win – closer and more regular interaction with family and friends and a reduced environmental impact as travel reduces.

Coronavirus is a horrible thing; and for those who have been infected and made ill by it, those who have lost loved ones as a result of it, or whose mental health has been impacted because of it, it’s a terrible thing and not at all to be downplayed or dismissed. But some of the social changes that have been brought about during the crisis may yet prove to have some lasting positive implications too.

Ignorance, stigma and blokism – personal reflections on the Asda fancy dress fiasco

That Asda, Tesco, Amazon and eBay should all have allowed Halloween costumes labelled as “mental” or “psychiatric” patient to be posted on their websites reinforces the views regularly expressed by mental health charities and campaign groups, that we still have a long way to go before the kind of casual discrimination and stereotyping that is now (thankfully) much more rare in relation to ethnicity and race, becomes equally unusual when dealing with mental illness. The five figure donations that have been made by Asda and Tesco to mental health charities will at least enable them to continue to fight the prejudice and misinformation that for so long have blighted the lives of those struggling with mental illness

The story touched a particular nerve with me, coming as it did very soon after somebody who I have known for many years, who I count as a friend, and for whom I have enormous professional respect, disclosed that they were receiving treatment for depression. The revelation must have taken enormous courage on the part of my friend, and it was a huge shock to me. That does not excuse the fact, though, that my response was bumbling and anodyne. I found myself trotting out a series of platitudes and aphorisms that must have left my friend wondering whether the emotional courage that it cost them to make the disclosure was really worth it

I have reflected long and hard on our conversation in the time since, and I have tried to write this blog entry on three or four previous occasions but have abandoned the attempts, having lost my way in a fog of psycho-babble, self-justification or self-pity. It seems to me that my inadequacy in providing the support that I should have done stems from two main issues : first, that I’m just not that good at talking about ‘feelings’ – my own or other people’s – and that this is particularly the case where I have no personal experience to draw on (a ‘blokish’ tendency that is simply reinforced in this case by my ignorance of what it is that somebody with a depressive illness is actually going through); and second, that I have been carrying around a set of preconceived ideas (or prejudices, to describe them more accurately) about the characteristics that define people who ‘get depressed’. My stereotypical depression sufferer was somebody displaying some or all of the following characteristics : highly strung, high maintenance, a bit ‘needy’, one of life’s victims, and who – frankly – probably just needed a bit of a kick in the seat of the pants to ‘snap out of it’ and stop ‘feeling sorry for themselves’

These prejudices have been brought out into the open and shattered when seen in the context of my friend. S/he fits none of these characteristics. The reality is – and I am sure that it is absolutely obvious to anyone reading this by now – the only person needing to snap out of it and stop feeling sorry for himself, is me

So – I have read up about depression from the perspective of healthcare professionals and those battling the illness, so that I have a better understanding of what it’s actually all about and  – more importantly – what I can do to help (actually, just ‘being there’ and ‘active listening’ feature high on the list of most helpful actions)

I’ve included links to a couple of the websites that I have found helpful here :

http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/depression/caringforsomeonewithdepression_000482.htm

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/05/08/9-best-ways-to-support-someone-with-depression/

I know that my friend occasionally visits this blog. I hope that they’ll forgive my pitiful response to their disclosure. I am determined that it won’t happen again