What is Mental Health?

We all have mental health and it is important we look after it as we would our physical health. Our mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being which will affect how we think, feel, and act. If we are not managing our mental health, it will change how we handle stress, relate to others, handle relationships and affect the decisions we make.

We do not have to be diagnosed with a mental health illness to suffer a mental health crisis. 1 in 4 of us in the UK every year will have a mental health crisis where we may need support from friends, family or potentially professional support.

When someone is diagnosed with a mental health illness, the term covers a large range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.

How could COVID-19 affect our Mental Health?

In January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19, a new Coronavirus disease which would be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and in March 2020 the WHO made the assessment COVID-19 could be a pandemic.

The news, social media, the internet and conversations in public are about the impact of COVID-19. The amount of information is unrelenting, not providing people with a break and leading to information fatigue. The information is not always accurate causing people to carryout inappropriate actions or to cause mass panic. Add to this, many countries are going into lockdown with mass isolation.

These concerns have wide-ranging concerns for our mental health and risk to those who are already diagnosed with mental health illness. We risk seeing increased levels of:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • impact on OCD
  • depression
  • self-harm and suicide

How does Mental Health affect us?

 Mental health can affect each of us differently due to our coping strategies, the situation and the mental health crisis or illness we are facing. We may experience:

  • tiredness
  • the inability to sleep or disturbed sleep with strange dreams
  • headaches
  • fear of what might happen
  • increasing or decreasing what we eat
  • upset stomachs
  • tight chest and feeling of difficulty to breath
  • picking at the quick of nails, spots or cuts on our body
  • increased intake of alcohol, pain killers or drugs
  • causing our self-harm to try to release the feelings we have inside, for example feeling like relieving pressure by cutting ourselves
  • considerations of taking your own life

Avoiding the stigma related to COVID-19

COVID-19 will affect people from many countries with no discrimination for age, gender, nationality or race. People who contract COVID-19 will have not done anything wrong and it is important we do not attach a stigma to them. We should not refer to anyone as 'COVID-19 Cases', 'Victims', 'COVID-19 Families', 'The Diseased'.

Anyone who is infected is a 'person who has COVID-19', 'person who is being treated for COVID-19' and 'person who has recovered from COVID-19'. It important to remember after someone recovers from COVID-19, they will go on with their lives, returning to work, spending time with their friends and families. We should not leave them with the label of COVID-19.

How can we minimise the impact on our Mental Health?

The back of a man sitting on the grass looking at the sunset

The NHS 5 steps to mental wellbeing advocate:

  1. Connect with other people
    Good relationships give you a sense of belonging, give you the ability to share positive experiences and provide emotional support to others
  2. Be physically active
    Being physically active helps with physical health as well as giving you a sense of achievement as you achieve the goals you set your self and help chemical changes in the brain which positively improve mood
  3. Learn new skills
    Learning a new skill boost self-confidence in the new activity you can carry out, gives a new sense of purpose and links you with new people
  4. Give to others
    By giving to others and carrying out acts of kindness, promotes positive feelings, helps connect with us and gives a feeling of self-worth
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
    We often look to the future missing the exciting and positive things happening around us.

During the time of COVID-19, we need to consider how we manage our access to information so we do not make our selves depressed or overly worried. We should read articles from approved sources that are based on fact, we should help promote positive stories while staying away from overly negative information. We should consider having limited times where we read or watch information, so we feel up to date and the remaining time living our lives.

It is important we spend time with the family we live with, focusing on positive activities that bring us together. It is important we create the right environment for children as they will pick up on the concern, worries and negativities of parents. It is important we keep to routines that keep us grounded, especially when children have to stay home in isolation. If we do not reassure our children, they will become more clingy to family members as they pick up on the stress. It is important we keep them up to date and depending on their age, play games that will help them learn how to protect themselves.

As well as playing games with the children to help them learn, we can look at games and exercises we can follow at home, injecting variety into our lives. We should also cook nice meals which give us plenty of energy for the day ahead and make ourselves feel healthy.

What do we mean by isolation?

People are interchanging the terms of self-isolation, isolation, social isolation, lockdown and many more.

We need to remember we believe the virus transfers through contact and or being sneezed or coughed over. We can reduce the spread of the virus by following good hygiene techniques, so any virus we get on our hands we do not transfer to our face. But if we get the virus, we should stay at home so we do not risk coughing or sneezing over other people. This does not mean we should socially isolate, we can still talk to people over the phone, through video call or on social media.

If we choose to self-isolate to reduce the risk of catching the virus, it does not mean we have to lock ourselves away. We need to limit the people we see by avoiding large events, avoiding public transport, restaurants or cinemas, but we can still go out for walks at distance from others, go for a drive and do our local weekly shop if you are not in the vulnerable group defined by the NHS.

How can we plan for a time of isolation while we recover?

Young lady looking out of window

Reducing isolation

Isolation will have an impact on people's mental health if we do not plan for it. Isolation does not mean we have to social isolate, however, if we have relatives who are used to our visits and not technology, now would be the time to introduce them to different technologies where they can still communicate. It is important to find the right solution for your relative, but you may wish to consider:

  • do they have access to a phone line or mobile
  • do they have access to the internet or wireless hotspot
  • do they have messaging apps like Whatsapp, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat
  • do they have access to video calling apps like Whatsapp, Skype, Facetime, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat
  • are you able to show them how to use simple apps or will you just confuse them and make them more stressed

It is important to remember you may not be in isolation yet, but your neighbours, friends and family maybe soon. Consider would you want them to check in on you and therefore how can you check in on them. Now is the time to be checking you have their phone number, address, user name or app ID.

Considering supplies

As well as considering how you can stay in touch with them, consider how you or they would arrange deliveries of food, pet food or medications. You can consider:

  • making arrangements of how you would deliver to a friend
  • knowing the contact details of local suppliers and making arrangements
  • having an online account for a supermarket chain

Considering professional support

If you fall ill, it is important to consider whether you have the details to:

  • review information on-line with NHS 111 service
  • how to contact 111 if your symptoms worsen
  • how to contact your local surgery for non-coronavirus concerns

Reducing the impact of isolation

If you need to isolate, consider what you will do during this time. We often have a routine that we are used to and losing this routine can lead to depression. Think about a simple plan which would give you a routine while you are in isolation, but also gives you a variety within your day. You may consider:

  • you are still working from home, so which bits of your days will be work
  • who will you check in with, to ensure they are ok
  • meals you could make, to ensure a varied and healthy diet
  • exercise routines you can carry out in the house
  • activities you can undertake in the garden for some fresh air
  • books that you could read
  • board games you could play
  • TV series to catch up on
  • computer games you could play
  • indoor activities you could carry out, including model making, lego, sewing, knitting.....
  • where you could go for a walk
  • projects you could complete at home while off

Family sitting in a room reading, on their phone and chatting

Further information

NHS 111 - About coronavirus (COVID-19)

Mind - Coronavirus and your wellbeing

NHS - 5 steps to mental wellbeing

GOV - Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK government response

WHO - Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public

Sources

WHO - Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak accessed 16/03/2020

MIND - Coronavirus and your wellbeing accessed 16/03/2020

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - COVID-19 - Manage Anxiety & Stress accessed 16/03/2020