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During this lockdown period it’s vital we support people’s mental health. I understand that physical health and social distancing is important right now, but I am concerned that mental health is being forgotten. Services are being shut, support is being cut and people are being forced to stay in their own homes.
In normal circumstances, if someone was staying in their house all the time, not socialising and not working, we would be worried for them. It wouldn’t be classed as healthy. And so, it still shouldn’t be.
Where is the support?
Visitors are being denied access to hospitals, even in the mental health setting. Inpatients are left with nothing to do; they cannot leave, and they cannot see anyone. They can’t even see the people they would normally live with.
There is no therapy, no groups. They are left alone with just their own thoughts and with little distraction. Admissions are becoming stricter and discharges are quicker, because there’s not much that can be offered to these patients.
But then when they are discharged, the support is limited because services are also being cut in the community.
Many visits are being changed to phone calls. Phone calls can make the conversation feel disjointed and cold. How can someone get the same psychological benefit over the phone than they can from sitting face to face with someone?
The other day, a patient attempted to form a plan of how they would manage once discharged. They said they wanted to be able to get up and do things each day, to go shopping, to see family. That is the only way they thought they would be able to cope.
But how can they do that in the current climate? How are we supporting those patients? Why does mental health always get forgotten? Yes, we need to stop the spread of the virus, but what about the detrimental effects or the increased risk of suicides?
But it’s not just those who are already in contact with services. Each and everyone of us will be negatively affected by this. Whether it is losing out on your last year of school or college or university or losing your income or the stress of being a key worker or the worries of yourself or a loved one, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, becoming infected.
The world is in state of unease and constant change. Every day brings something new. Many of us are experiencing constant feelings of anxiety about what is around the corner and about how we will survive even when this is all over.
So, during this time, before things improve, we must look after ourselves and we must look after each other.
Try and go outside each day, breath fresh air and connect with nature. You can spend time in your garden or go for a walk in your local area.
Take in the scenery. When we feel low and isolated, it can be hard to make ourselves do anything. We may just want to lie in bed all day, curl up and wait for this to blow over.
But we cannot, we must ‘stop waiting for the storm to pass’ and we must instead, ‘learn to dance in the rain’. We must keep living.
Exercise is known to increase endorphins to help lift our spirits. Participate in activities you enjoy; in things you now have the time to do.
“Although the pandemic takes priority, we cannot forget about mental health during this time”
The arts during this time are so important. You can read books, listen to music or sing and dance. Connect to things that make you happy. Try that recipe you’ve been wanting to, clear out your wardrobe. Make a new routine for this temporary new way of life.
Importantly, also make sure to keep in contact with people, with family and friends. Make the effort to use video call rather than just messaging. It will help us to feel closer and more connected to each other.
But please also make sure to reach out to those who are alone during this time. To those who may be putting on a brave face and to those who may not. No one deserves to feel alone.
Although the pandemic takes priority, we cannot forget about mental health during this time. It is just as important as physical health and lives will be at risk otherwise.
We do not know how long this will go on for and I do not believe it is fair for so many services within mental health to be cut.
The more we cut interactions to decrease the risk of spreading the virus, the more we increase the risk of negative effects on mental health. A balance needs to be found, and I do not believe we have found that yet.
Aisling Gore is an adult and mental health nursing student at the University of Southampton