A Mental Health Crisis Is Looming Thanks To COVID-19

graffiti hug mental health

When the catastrophic storm of COVID-19 hit the world was unprepared, it left huge destruction in its wake. With the number of cases rising at an alarming rate within the week of March 16th – 23rd, with the total infections rising to almost 100,000, drastic action needed to be taken in a bid to control the virus. Thus, on 23rd March, the government announced a full national lockdown – with no-one allowed to mix with anyone other than their household, except for essential purposes. 

Our physical health was finally made a priority by our government… but what about our mental health? At what point do prolonged periods of isolation start tearing away at our wellbeing? Where’s the support in times of emotional crisis? 

No matter what your situation is, the devastating effects of this strain of Coronavirus nationwide are undeniable. We are living in what is considered to be “the worst pandemic in a century” with NHS workers under immense strain having to give up so much of their time to support patients fighting COVID-19. 

But here’s what deserves stressing upon entering the new year – just because others’ problems seem worse than yours, it doesn’t make your worries or concerns invalid. Any pain or struggles you’re facing deserve to be talked about. Lockdown has been described as the world’s “biggest psychological experiment” by the World Economic Forum, due to the widespread fear, uncertainty, and stresses the virus has stirred up in all of us. 

Now more than ever we need as much emotional support as physical or economic support. We are living through a scary and unprecedented global event right now and many groups of people are struggling to cope with the seemingly never-ending lockdown restrictions. 

And one of the most affected groups is students. A recent study by Young Minds brought the draining effects of lockdown to the forefront with 59% of those in halls saying they felt lonely. 58% state their mental health is worse due to coronavirus.  And despite all the headlines of wild student parties and Matt Hancock’s recurring narrative of blame vilifying young people as “selfish” virus spreaders, the reality is very different. 

One young person discussed her challenges as a student in lockdown as part of an online survey conducted by myself about the impact of social distancing on mental health. “I have never felt as emotionally drained as I have this first term of uni. I have cried more than I’ve ever cried, and my moods are all over the place.” She went on to discuss her living situation “I like my housemates but I’m not used to being confined with them and so being trapped in lockdown without other interaction is not something I can really cope with.” Loneliness is a common sentiment shared amongst University student and this quote demonstrates how lockdown seems to have exacerbated such feelings.  Times are now tougher than ever yet those normal support structures such as socialising with loved ones, seeing family or hugging close friends aren’t there anymore. 

An even more shocking statistic is that “at least one university student has died every week since the start of term” according to an article by the Tab. Despite these deaths being officially declared as unrelated to COVID-19, one parent Michael Kiston spoke out publically in refute of this. “This is not true. If you lockdown young people because of Covid-19 with little support, then you should expect that they suffer extreme anxiety.”

Statistics do not directly correlate the impact of COVID-19 on suicide rates as of yet however, those with a depressive mindset may, as a result of lockdown, be put in a dangerous situation with no-one to help them escape their negative pattern of thinking. Up and down the nation, COVID-19 has stripped us of access to any sort of emotional support and reassurance. Invisible borders have been installed separating us per bubble. In other words, no matter the severity of the situation (either mentally or physically) a family or friend may find themselves in, if they’re not in your bubble you shouldn’t go near them. Such an abrupt severing of physical interaction has opened up a vulnerability within the population.

Whilst restrictions should be adhered to protect ourselves and our loved ones, where must the line be drawn to protect us yet still respect our emotional needs? Stifling restrictions have now been enforced nationally meaning many relatives can’t see their loved ones in times of crisis or even when close to death. Kathryn de Prudhoe, a psychotherapist from Leeds, commented that after the death of her father her mother had to isolate for 11 days. “When she was able to come out of that self-isolation, she was completely traumatised.” Surely it’s not mentally healthy to have to process grief from a distance?

Rather than practising empathy, the phrase “be cruel to be kind” is taken a bit too literally. Those facing trauma are left by themselves, offering support is seen as either breaking social distancing and putting people’s lives at risk. 

However, this COVID-19 callousness is just as present on the small scale as the large scale. I’ve heard of ruptures in families after being systematically guilt-tripped and burdened for how often they go outside. Someone I know after an emotionally stressful period hugged someone after months enduring hardship alone. Afterwards, they were met with adversity: “you’ll have to quarantine now after hugging.” Another young person who participated in the survey relayed how her good friends of ten years told her she “deserved to get corona” after seeking out additional support outside her bubble. Rather than focus on what someone’s going through, people instead choose to neglect their emotional needs and are quick to point the finger. 

Why are our government unable to, or actively choosing not to, see this mental health crisis unfold? Do they think emotional inhibitors really exist meaning we can just forgo our grief, heartbreak, low mood by limiting physical contact? The simple fact is people are struggling across all sectors and generations. Mental health support needs to be a priority, now. 

Words by Katie Heyes

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