How to emerge from lockdown relatively unscathed

In March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had hit the nation and for the first time the United Kingdom was plunged into lockdown. We were all advised to “stay at home” and “save lives”. The majority of people entered a “strange new world” where normal rules did not apply, self-sufficiency was tested to the limit, and an hour-long walk or cycle ride became the highlight of one’s day. At the time, I found myself writing articles for my business website about how to stay connected to others during lockdown and how to impose a routine on an otherwise structure less day. It is interesting how quickly many people adapted to the new normal, setting up home offices and home classrooms, tackling long overdue household projects, getting to grips with video calling and taking regular exercise.

Overnight, I adapted my psychiatry business such that all my consultations and assessments were carried out using secure video-call. There was a lag phase followed by a shared realisation that this was entirely possible. There were many amusing moments where links did not work, pet parrots interrupted the flow of conversation and there was yet another delivery man or woman at the door. It worked. My business stayed afloat, and a new way of working was born. Suddenly distance and time were no longer barriers. I could assess patients from anywhere in the UK, in fact anywhere in the world! Wow! Why had I not thought of this before? I became so busy that at times I forgot to stop working and take breaks. Notwithstanding this, I always considered myself one of the lucky people whose business had the capability to adapt during what was for most people a very difficult time.

And so, lockdowns came and went. Mask-wearing came and went. “Social bubbles” were born, enlarged, and contracted again. Rules were broken. People suffered and people died. Jabs went into arms. Boosters went into arms. Everyone wondered when and how this would end.

Now in October 2021, the landscape looks quite different, however many a warrior has been left with scars. If you are one such warrior, do not despair. I hear that you are struggling. Many people are going to find it more difficult to come out of lockdown than to go into it. Many people have suffered from a variety of mental illnesses as a direct consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It could be argued that the next pandemic, perhaps a silent pandemic, is one of mental illness and disability. Some people felt anxiety during the pandemic for the first time in their lives. Many people have been bereaved due to Covid-19. Varying degrees of sadness and depression are virtually the norm. Healthcare staff, patients, and relatives alike have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following time spent on intensive care, seeing people suffer, seeing body bags stacking up, having to say goodbye to a loved one through a wall of glass. Yet life goes on now, and everything is “returning to normal”. Or is it?

If you are struggling with your mental health now, know that you are not alone. The first stage in your recovery is acceptance. A personal acceptance that life has changed beyond recognition. A personal acceptance that you have changed as a person. That is okay. You may be going through a normal process of adaptation, or you may have developed a mental disorder during the pandemic which means that you will require additional help to negotiate this transition.

If you have experienced debilitating illness, delays in treatment of a serious illness, death of a loved one, loss of job, loss of role, financial hardship, long Covid, you will be at increased risk of developing a mental illness. You may feel persistently low in mood. You may have suicidal thoughts which are a common symptom in depression. You may feel anxious about leaving the house or starting to socialise with friends again. You may feel exhausted. You may feel defeated. Whatever you feel is valid and should be taken seriously.

Post Covid-19, the NHS is under huge pressure. More than ever before. Without meaning to sound harsh, that is not your problem. If you are experiencing poor mental health, please take your suffering seriously and reach out for help. Life lessons in self-sufficiency have now been replaced by life lessons in self-advocacy. If you feel anxious or depressed or both, contact your GP and book a consultation. Initially this may be an email or a telephone consultation. If you feel that you need a face-to-face consultation, ask for this. Explain to the doctor exactly how you feel. Ask for help and the best help that is on offer. If you are suffering from long Covid, ask your GP what rehabilitation facilities are available in your area. If you have one, ask your employer what they may be able to offer you in terms of support and treatment.

The next wave of the pandemic has arrived – the mental illness pandemic. I hope that we all take this as seriously as we did the original cause. We were all equal in our isolation. Now we are all equal in helping ourselves and others to re-emerge into the world, battered and bruised, and without shame. I hope that we will be there for one another in a different way and that the conversation about mental illness will become easier because we have a “reason to be mentally ill”. We are no longer talking about “those poor people with mental illness”. Mental illness has crossed barriers and crossed boundaries and touched the lives of the many rather than the few.

Janet Meehan

Dated 25th October 2021

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