We are all living with the possibility of being struck down by a vicious, debilitating and widespread disease.
None of us is immune. It can creep up on us without warning and engulf our lives, leaving us totally incapacitated and in some cases, it can snuff the life out of us entirely.
I’m not referring to coronavirus, as you may have thought, but something more common, more widespread and possibly more damaging. There is no vaccine against it. It will affect 1 in 4 of us at some point in our lives and can be triggered by stress and emotional upheaval amongst other things. It is something which we all need to guard against, especially in times such as these and yet, not many even give it a second thought.
I am referring to mental health. Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and agoraphobia are on the rise. The list of such problems is a very long one and in many cases, one problem, if left untreated can lead to another. It must not be ignored.
Turning our attention back to the virus itself, we all know that it has meant enforced, solitary isolation for countless individuals. Many who live alone have become extremely anxious at the thought of going out, as having little or no contact with the outside world is starting to take its toll.
We’re told it’s for the good of our health and the health of our friends and neighbours, to keep us all safe; but what about our mental health?
The fear of catching the virus as soon as we step out of our own front doors is very real for so many. Masks must be worn at all times when we do venture out and a safe distance must be kept from others. Simply put, a solitary and lonely existence has been forced on the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly and the sick.
For families, being stuck at home together from morning til night with no outlet can be equally as challenging. Parents are trying in vain to entertain their children for hours on end, becoming increasingly desperate as the weeks drag on. There’s been very little in the way of routine or social interaction for many kids which has been a real cause for concern both in terms of how it’s affecting their education and social skills. The very real prospect of another lockdown is a very real concern in this regard.
Separation is another huge problem. Families and friends have had to endure lengthy, painful separations with the added blow of not knowing when they’ll see each other again. Family celebrations are all but a thing of the past. Grandparents have been forced to remain apart from their grandchildren. Weeks have turned into months and not so much as a hug has taken place for those who are shielding. A socially distanced wave is the best they can hope for.
Businesses have been closed, livelihoods vanished, jobs disappeared and most tragically of all, lives lost.
The effects of the virus are all around us. We are reminded of its pervasiveness from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. Governments across the globe are fighting to halt its spread and keep us all ‘safe’ by keeping us apart. Whilst I understand the reasoning behind it, it is now becoming abundantly clear that the unspoken collateral damage of all of these measures will be to our mental health. Countless individuals are already suffering, which brings its own devastation. Those who have tragically lost loved ones are, in many cases, offered special covid bereavement counselling. But what of those who haven’t lost anyone, but feel like they are slowly losing their minds, such is the pressure they are under. Where is the help for them?
Social media is flooded with people encouraging us to stay physically fit during lockdown. We’re all being taught new skills in order to keep us alert and busy. Facebook groups have been set up for people to share ideas or have a general moan about being bored. What’s been severely lacking however, is an acknowledgement of our collective mental health and how it’s undoubtedly being affected by the pandemic. Many are simply suffering in silence, often self medicating with alcohol and drugs, too scared or ashamed to speak out. We’ve been conditioned to think only of our physical health and how to keep ourselves and others safe.
We haven’t been told what to look out for in a person who may be suffering with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems. I often come across information telling me how to spot the symptoms of the dreaded virus, but not once have I come across anything warning me about how to spot the signs of mental health problems in myself or others.
Although I’m not a qualified practitioner in the field of mental health, I’ve acquired a certain expertise from observing the progress of such an illness in a loved one and having to deal with the devastating consequences that can flow from it. I would therefore urge everyone to be mindful of mental health problems. Read up on it, learn how to spot the signs and don’t ignore them. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to seek help. There are many wonderful people who are working tirelessly to provide support for those who are struggling. Their organisations and services can be accessed in various ways and I’d invite those who provide such services to share their links in the comments below.
We have a duty to free this issue from the shackles of the stigma and ignorance which surrounds it. Unless and until we do that, no amount of hand washing or mask wearing will stave off a crisis far worse than the one caused by the virus itself.