Mental health: it’s no longer a taboo subject!

“lonely traveller” by rprathap is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The pandemic has had an impact on all of us. We wouldn’t be human if it hadn’t. Perhaps one of the few positives to come from the last year has been the fact that talking about one’s own mental health is now a routine and normal topic of conversation with friends and family. It’s definitely no longer a taboo subject.

It sounds obvious, but this last year has been so difficult for all of us; we’ve all experienced the full gamut of emotions. A psychologist on the BBC Radio 4 said recently that it’s been like a prison sentence.

I work for a small company in London and two weeks ago, we had a speaker in to talk about mental health and wellness. The speaker is an ambassador for the charity Mind. He opened up about his huge mental health struggles, which spanned 15 years, and he gave powerful personal testimony on how he had tried to commit suicide three times during that period.

Now fully recovered, married and a HR director in a large technology company, his story and presentation (all off the cuff) was compelling and had the undivided attention of the team, who’d all joined in by Zoom.

He recommended that we should embrace every emotion and accept our feelings and that for our mental wellbeing we need to ‘live’. We need to run, walk, write or whatever gives us some fun and relaxation from work and normal routines.

Working from home during the pandemic

He recalled people saying, “I’ve saved three hours on my daily commute, so I can now work these extra three hours”. Instead, we should focus on wellness and enjoyable activities for these extra hours. We should establish boundaries at home by not working from the bedroom and by turning off the laptop and mobile phone more frequently.

Keen on human interaction, which has been so difficult this last year, he recommended that we ask after the families and partners of our friends and colleagues. How’s everyone at home? How’s everyone coping?

We should particularly reach out to colleagues and friends who are normally confident and who may now be quiet and withdrawn. We need to be a ‘true’ friend. This all seems very sensible and perhaps obvious, but are we actually doing it?

Mental health: the statistics

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide
  • Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression
  • Depression affects more women than men

According to the charity Mind, in England:

  • One in four people will experience mental health problems of some kind each year
  • One in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety in any given week

These are mind-blowing statistics and may come as a huge surprise to many, but with so much media reporting on mental health, it may not be as shocking as it would normally be.

The first lockdown and its impact on mental health

The initial lockdown was a novelty for all of us. The rules were black and white and the situation was grave. Subsequent dither, incompetence and mixed messaging from the government – and the infamous Barnard Castle moment – all contributed to undermine public confidence and cause mental anguish to rise.

This reached a peak for so many over December and into January, when the daily news was so grim and the incompetence of government so high. Who could help but feel for those so ill and dying on the wards of the country’s hospitals, during the nightly news reporting from intensive care departments?

Mental health, post-pandemic

How have we all managed to cope? It’s an interesting thesis and perhaps it’s a false one. Millions have suffered.

Recent modelling by the Centre for Mental Health forecasts that as many as 10 million people will need new or additional mental health support as a direct result of the coronavirus epidemic. Here in Yorkshire, more people wanted to take time off work for mental health issues than anywhere else in England according to new figures.

Our lives have been turned upside down in a way that has been so foreign to all of us and virtually all of all suffered in some way. Anyone who says different is probably lying to themselves. It’s easy to put on a front for a video call. The first step to recovery is admitting that we’ve suffered, and for so many this suffering has been so great.

Social isolation and deprivation of our normal liberties has been brutal. Existing friendships have suffered and making new friendships has been almost impossible. And all when the daily bulletins and newspapers have been so full of depressing stories. Physical interaction is what we’re all craving, even if it’s just for a pint, a bowl of chips and a gossip session.

Reach out to friends, talk more, and support more

It’s time to stage a fight back and plan positive activities that allow for our own physical and mental health recovery. For so many whose mental health has been adversely affected by the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, recovery may be slow. We must all reach out and support each other. We will recover faster by doing so, because we’re stronger by acting together.

Let’s all be a ‘true’ friend to our friends and turn off those screens that have been dominating our lives over this last year. Focus on talking, fun activities and meeting up as the restrictions are starting to ease. And if you’re feeling anxious, talk to your friends, family, a colleague or a health professional.

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