May was Mental Health Awareness month internationally and this years theme is kindness. As all members of society deal with massive challenges as a consequence of the global pandemic it is important we continue to care throughout the year by checking in with each other regularly. We need our friends, family and co-workers ‘how are you?’ and take the time to listen empathetically to the response.
The World Health Organisation constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” An key implication of this definition is that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. (1)
Mental health illness can affect anyone and has various degrees of impact on everyday life. It may be temporary and treated easily or a more chronic condition that needs management in the long term. There are many different illnesses that come under the umbrella of mental health including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, dissociation and dissociative identity order (DID), agoraphobia and eating disorders.
One in 100 people suffer from schizophrenia in their lifetime which can mean they hear voices and see visual hallucinations. This is a condition that may develop during adolescence. (2)
Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression and can be a life long disorder that can cause big changes in mood. Both mania and depression can be experiences by a sufferer and include dramatically changing energy levels.
Anxiety disorders can cause ongoing worrying and fearful feelings that can affect many aspects of life. “Things may appear worse than they actually are” explains the organisation Rethink Mental Illness. Daily life can be impacted negatively by behaviour linked to anxiety.
Depression is a long lasting low mood disorder that can have major consequences for being able to keep life’s normal routine running smoothly. It can mean that being interested in and participating in fun activities is hard and some days it can be too tough to feel any joy, gratitude and happiness.
The charitable organisation Rethink Mental Illness describes how DID can include multiple personality disorder and often sufferers have problems associated with having different identities. Severe stress and trauma and difficult relationships can cause these behaviours as a protection mechanism. “Depersonalisation might cause feeling emotionally numb and ‘cut off’ from yourself. Derealisation is where someone feels disconnected from the world around them.” (2)
However “disconnected” is the word used currently to describe how many have been feeling during the global pandemic. Men, women and children with underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression and OCD say their symptoms have been heightened by the worrying global news and frightening national statistics and changes in personal circumstances.
Not wanting to leave the home and being fearful of going to public places can be a symptom of agoraphobia at any age. Symptoms are anecdotally observed as more common since lockdown began and previously conquered problems can reappear again under the new more complicated conditions faced in daily life by some people. Agoraphobia can affect the confidence of many who normally struggle with attending work and events in the community.
Autism is not a mental health illness. However The National Autistic Society explain that “many autistic people develop separate mental health problems. Often this can stem from a lack of appropriate support, which means that autistic people can develop more significant needs.” (3)
Asperger syndrome is part of the autistic spectrum. People with Asperger syndrome and autism may excel in many areas including maths, IT and languages. They may struggle with social situations, friendships, expressing emotion and changes to familiar routines.
“As a result of the above difficulties affecting everyday life, many people with Asperger syndrome experience mental health problems and can experience isolation, depression, anxiety and/or low self-esteem.” say the Mental Health Foundation.(4)
In 2017 a survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation with participants from across the UK found that “73% of people living in the lowest household income bracket (less than £1,200 per month) reported having experienced a mental health problem during their lifetime, compared to 59% in the highest household income bracket (more than £3,701 per month).”(5)
The Mental Health Foundation argues that prevention is better than cure and that continued government support is necessary for the poorest working and unemployed families to ensure that the increased instability and financial pressures aren’t ‘the straw that broke the camels back’.
Health and social care workers and other key workers that are sometimes barely paid the minimum wage have had to deal with the biggest medical crisis since World War II this Spring and the situation is ongoing at present. BBC Radio 4 reported this week that psychiatric experts are concerned that post traumatic stress disorder may affect medical professionals working ‘on the front line’ for several months in a row.
Office for National Statistic figures show that deprived areas are often suffering more than double the deaths of their wealthier neighbouring counties due to Covid-19. This means that people with the lowest incomes are disproportionately dealing with the burden of loss and added consequences of the coronavirus crisis.
The fear is that unexpected events beyond an individuals control may prove catastrophic for some people who are already trying to cope with complex family lives that often have extra multiple difficulties. Some British residents may be dealing with managing disabilities, caring for infirm relatives, legal problems, addictions and be already living with debt.
In 2018 there were 6507 suicides in the UK and three quarters of those were men according to the ONS. (6) These are preventable deaths and the Samaritans charity is always there for anyone who needs someone to talk to. (7)
More people than ever are relying on food banks. We can all help one another by regularly talking with our friends, loved ones and neighbours and supporting them with listening, encouragement, company and practical assistance whenever possible. Practising mindfulness and positive activities that support well being like exercising, gardening, yoga, meditation, cooking, arts and crafts, music playing and relaxing with a good book or film can really help all individuals feel more positive every day.
If we can afford it donating money and time to charities will make a big difference during this very challenging year for our country. The coronavirus and the lockdown that has followed has caused unprecedented changes. Leaders and communities that are pulling together will be vital in the next few months and years as the lasting impact on ordinary households nationwide becomes clear.
(1) ‘Mental health: strengthening our response’ World Health Organisation, 30 March 2018 Mental health strengthening response, World health Organisation
(2) ‘Learn More About Conditions’ Rethink Mental Illness, 4 June 2020 Rethink Mental Illness, learn more about
(3) ‘The Mental Health Act’ Autism.org The Autistic Society, 4 June 2020 The Mental Health Act Autism.org
(4) ‘Asperger syndrome’ Mental Health Organisation, 4 June 2020 Asperger syndrome, Mental Health Organisation
(5) ‘The COVID-19 pandemic, financial inequality and mental health’ referencing report: Mental Health Foundation. Surviving or Thriving. London; 2017′ 4 June 2020 Financial inequaliy and mental health, Mental Health Foundation
(6) ‘Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations’ Office for National Statistics, 4 June 2020 Office National Statistics suicides in the UK
(7) Samaritans, 4 June 2020 Samaritans Tel 116 123