Thursday, 26 March 2020

WHY MENTAL HEALTH IS TAKING A BEATING WITH THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC | IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CUMBRIA, NORTHUMBERLAND, TYNE & WEAR NHS FOUNDATION TRUST



This post is in partnership with the wonderful mental health NHS Trust for my area; CNTW (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust) so at the end I’ll be including all of their links and one of their most important articles produced during this Pandemic.

I’d like to think I’m a pretty fair and balanced kind of person in that I can usually see a disagreement from both sides, so when I write blog posts and posts on social media I try to imagine the other side to it… You know, in my last post: ‘WHAT I WANT YOU TO KNOW DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC,’ I talked a little about how people are feeling that they can’t talk about how the pandemic is affecting them because they’re sure that there’s someone ‘worse off.’ And I absolutely get it; I mean, there’s tweets about Grandmas dying alone because visiting in hospitals is suspended and people having their lives genuinely turned upside down to coincide with the UK lockdown regulations (which you can read here).

I think that the one common impact that the Coronavirus Pandemic is having on at least the majority of people, is on our mental health. People often make the mistake of thinking that to be struggling with your mental health, you must have some sort of diagnosis, but this isn’t true. Everyone has mental health in the same way that everyone has physical health, and you can struggle with your thoughts and feelings without it being you must have an official ‘label’ or disorder. Someone can feel sad without having a formal diagnosis of Depression. You can feel anxious without it needing to result in a panic attack for it to be worth talking about. And you can struggle with your mental health without needing to feel suicidal for it to be deserving of asking for help and support.

So, for those who are wondering why I – and so many others – are talking about mental health at a time when physical health is in the foreground of everyone’s lives, and those feeling unsure as to why they’re struggling or who feel alone in their struggle, here’s a little list of just some of the reasons why the mental health of so many people is taking a battering through the Coronavirus Pandemic…

Stress
I witnessed a friend of mine stressing the other day because she has two children but works as a Carer and now the Schools are closing… she was frantic trying to arrange care for her kids around her shifts and the shifts of their Father. It made me grateful to not have such dilemmas, but it also made me sad that I couldn’t be of more help and support to her. I have had some stress of my own but I’m guilty of what I was talking about; I think that it’s absolutely nothing and insignificant compared to the stress others are going through so I don’t like to moan about it, but it should be recognized. I’ve stressed over my food shop and my medication.

I usually do my weekly food shop and collect my medication with my Support Worker, but they’ve stopped face-to-face contact, so I was left to my own devices! There are some things like cereal, Pepsi, and orange juice that I use a lot and so doing a weekly shop means I have to buy quite a few of them, but because of the Pandemic and the lockdown, the items were being limited to three per person! I understand limiting the basics like bread and milk but orange juice?! And I wasn’t even stock piling them; I was buying the amount I usually buy!

Then, my medication? The pharmacy I collect my dosette box from was limiting entrance to three people at a time and because they’d been so busy, after waiting in a queue outside for ten minutes, the box wasn’t even ready! These stresses were enough to leave me thinking ‘I need to just go to bed – today is a dud!’

Inconsistency and change
There’s a lot of this going on at the minute, especially with the government and professionals who all have a say in the consequences to the general public during the Pandemic. I’m obviously no expert but I’m sure it’s difficult for them when the situation is changing every day – every hour. I think it’s just hard to go one day believing one thing and then all of a sudden, it’s something different… 

Inconsistency leads to change. Numerous changes. And change can be unsettling for anyone at the best of times, but to have it when you’re vulnerable and already struggling can feel overwhelmingly difficult. Consistency can be really reassuring and can help to build your confidence in others because it’s nice to know that you can rely on someone in that way.

I used to really spiral out with the slightest of changes; even when my Community Psychiatric Nurse would be off sick. I’d take it personally and feel letdown, forgotten about, and disrespected. It would make me question their reliability and whether I could trust them with everything they were taking responsibility for and the role they were playing in my life.

Fear
This isn’t solely isolated to children as you might assume; and I think it actually takes a lot of courage and bravery to tell someone you’re scared. I said, ‘this is so scary’ the other day and my Mum was like ‘that’s the first time you’ve used that word about this!’ I guess that I put so much importance on the word that I don’t use it lightly or easily. Going through sexual abuse when I was younger was obviously a really scary time and it really taught me a lot about fear and how to manage it safely and without feeling insecure and vulnerable.

Right now, I think a lot of the fear stems from the physical side effects that the Coronavirus has and the drastic consequences to them. Having been on life support myself, I know the feeling of being on a ventilator and I know the aftermath and the devastating impact it can have. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; so, hearing that it can be the end result for the Coronavirus is a pretty scary thought. Then, videos keep appearing of people on ventilators in Intensive Care, or people suffering from some of the symptoms of the Virus, and of course it exacerbates the fear. However, maybe it’s good that we – the general public – are made aware of the real impact it can have and of just how poorly you can be, because it will hopefully encourage some people into following the restrictions purely out of fear of what not adhering to them can do.

Boredom
Even for those who are working from home, there’s bound to be some hours of free time during this lockdown when you don’t have a clue what to do with yourself…? Hours where your brain literally can’t think of a single activity or task that needs doing and you’re left sat there twiddling your thumbs and thinking that watching paint dry would be far more interesting and exciting! I came up with a list, in my last post, of things that you could do whilst at home. These hours also leave you susceptible to spending hours mulling over things and thinking about upsetting times that might have been put out of your mind had you been busy and distracted.

Fortunately, I learnt the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skill of distraction a long time ago so for years I’ve had a little repertoire of activities to do when I needed to keep busy and focus on something other than whatever was going on at the time! Reading, doing my makeup and binge-watching TV series are probably my favourites!

Lack of motivation/time to procrastinate
This is probably the biggest struggle for those who are supposed to be working from home. I may not completely understand this point because I don’t have a fulltime job, but I like to think that some of what I do is a bit like work (especially the online courses I’m doing) because I often have deadlines and goals. So, I kind of have an idea of how hard it is to have any motivation to stick to these deadlines and continue with work when the TV is on or the phone is going crazy with social media notifications. Then there’s having a pet; being at home means more time with them around. I have a kitten and a bunny who are like having two toddlers in the house because they’re constantly causing chaos and getting into trouble; so that’s hectic and extremely distracting when I’m trying to work.

I recognize though, that I’m very lucky that my ‘work’ is something which I really enjoy and which I’m so passionate about that even when there’s a million and one other things going on around me, I don’t often lose focus. I also recognize that losing motivation then gives me time to procrastinate and that isn’t at all healthy! Getting your to-do list done is always so rewarding and that feeling of accomplishment is something you can’t beat – seven years later and I still get a thrill when I publish a blog post that I’ve been working on!

Loneliness
When my Community Psychiatric Nurse had to first cancel our appointments I felt completely deserted and alone because we have such a good relationship where I’m very comfortable telling her my very deepest and darkest thoughts and feelings. So, losing the person I can do that with is very hard on my mental health and I’m not the only person this is happening to! So many mental health services are struggling to keep face-to-face contact/appointments because of the Pandemic.

The largest feeling behind loneliness is that you’re unimportant because there are so many professionals being counted as ‘keyworkers’ and permitted to continue doing their shifts so it can leave service users feeling that apparently mental health doesn’t count and isn’t of similar significance. It can seem deflating and demeaning.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of kindness going on in the world right now with gestures ranging from purchasing something from a stranger’s Amazon wishlist (mine is here!), to free flowers from Tesco for NHS workers! And when we had the Clap for Carers/Clap for NHS at 8pm tonight, it was such an emotional time because it allowed us all the chance to see that we weren’t alone; there’s so many others having similar experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

Triggers
This entire situation is so triggering of previous experiences that some may not have considered… the first time I thought about this was when someone tweeted that the lockdown had brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings that they’d only ever experienced when sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act and an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital. It really hit home because of course I’ve been sectioned too so I felt that I could completely relate to those thoughts around having no control over your comings and goings and feeling so paranoid when you do venture outside.

Another example has been with someone I know who went through Chemotherapy a few years ago and as a result, had to be extra cautious around their health with the treatment hugely increasing their chance of contracting an infection or other illness. This Pandemic has reminded this person and those who cared for them during that time, about a very difficult (understatement!) moment in their life and that’s been so much more upsetting than if they hadn’t been through that.

For me, seeing all of the photos in the media of people on life support has triggered my memories around the two occasions when two suicide attempts left me on a ventilator in Intensive Care. It made me so upset to think of others going through that but it also reminded me of how far I’ve come in my mental health recovery.

So, as promised, here’s all of the links for CNTW’s social media etc and one of their main articles at the moment which talks all about how their staff are going above and beyond their duties and responsibilities in this Pandemic. You can read it here: