'Staying safe' must continue to hold meaning after pandemic has passed
Clare Dickens is a senior lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton and chair of the city's Suicide Prevention Stakeholder’s Forum.
There is no doubt that many people have struggled with their mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus lockdown.
As the Star's survey shows, 45 per cent of people who responded said their mental health had suffered in recent weeks.
When we ask people how they are feeling now, it may be easy to say that any issues they are experiencing are as a direct result of this enforced period of isolation. But it would be wrong to assume that everything was great before, when for a lot of people that may not have been the case.
We have now gone through differing stages of the pandemic. At the start there was an introduction of possible fear and anticipation for the first wave of the virus to hit; moving through stages whereby we were bombarded with messages of doom and gloom, and death rates became part of our daily discussions.
For people who experience health anxiety in the first place, this created a possible recipe to increase it. But the way people are feeling now may well be more connected with things that were going on under the surface before.
For those people who were struggling, the lockdown has possibly exacerbated those issues and it important to highlight that demarcation. For example, people who have not got a good family or home life, have been forced to spend more time than usual with people who they may not get on with or who in some cases places them at increased risk as a result of the behaviour of others.
The pandemic could have a longer term impact when we consider that remote working may be a thing of the future. There are some positives we can take from this newer way of working and many people will report these improvements to their home and work life balance.
However many would argue they don’t feel like they are working from home, more so living at work. While this may work for some businesses financially and from a productivity viewpoint, we must also consider people's wellbeing.
Many people who have been working at home have experienced difficulties in switching off as there is no change in environment and limited connection with others.
There is something special about that 10 minutes in the workplace when you catch up with people and maybe put the world to rights. From my own experience, I have probably been in touch with my own colleagues a lot more than before, but not on a face-to-face basis.
There is a big difference and I think a lot of us have really missed that everyday interaction, which is perhaps something we took for granted in the past. As human beings we are designed to connect and bond. We might not always get on, but we do need each other and the lockdown has certainly impacted on that connectedness both in and outside of work place contexts.
The effect on children and young people is particularly concerning.
I am among a group of academics and UK based experts who have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, asking the Government to review and consider the impact of the lockdown on children and young people.
There remains an indefensible lack of expert and scientific input on SAGE covering young people’s mental health and education, furthermore an apparent lacking desire to gain meaningful input and representation from said children and young people, to form the decisions that actually affect them; and yet we know that lockdown exacerbates key risk factors known to increase the risk of self-harmful thoughts and feelings including defeat, entrapment, loneliness/social isolation, hopelessness and anger in children and young people.
There is a real risk of an educational attainment gap emerging from the Covid-19 situation also, and the most vulnerable and marginalised in society (including those from a BAME background, with special educational needs, disabilities and children in the lowest income homes), are likely to be most affected by this with previous support mechanisms not being available in their entirety, and interim solutions though well meaning, have been viewed through the lens of people who maybe have limited insight and experience to draw from of what actually constitutes as helpful help.
There is a worrying realisation emerging for those who are committed to understanding the needs of children and young people, that they will be the unintended victims of the pandemic, and in years to come they will be at the forefront of rebuilding the UK as adults, with a deficit in their education and development to draw from as a result of this pandemic. In a recent study Kooth – which is the largest children and young people digital mental health service across England and Wales – compared the situation this time last year to week 10 of lockdown.
They found that there has been an increase in anxiety about health and isolation issues, bereavement and most worryingly, the Midlands has seen an 18 per cent increase in reported suicidal thoughts in children and young people.
It would be wrong and unwise to try to predict any increase in suicide rates as a result of the Covid-19 situation, but we do know that the triggers for such emotional pain are increasing for many members of our community – bereavement, unemployment, job insecurity, financial difficulties, relationship breakdown, physical ill health to name a few.
We do however know that the intensity of such pain can and does pass, and we need to conceive a way of keeping ourselves safe and well until they do.
We need moving forward to now aim for a democratised approach to health and wellbeing, whereby we all know and have access to the means of support and the resources we need in order to look after ourselves and indeed each other.
Staying Safe, should continue to hold meaning for us all long after the pandemic has passed.
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