Written by Jennifer Rowland, T4V Volunteer

It was announced on Sunday that leading psychiatrists and psychologists have contacted the NHS regarding setting up PTSD screening for those who became seriously ill with COVID-19 and have survived due to the nightmares and the frightening experience that they have just experienced.

But as a nation, so many of us have felt the need for a little extra help in the mental health department during the first 3 months of lockdown. Anxiety and Depression are on the rise, and when I spoke with my doctor on the phone, he mentioned how so many of his patients had either asked for medication or asked for an increased prescription.

Before COVID came about, our mental health services were stretched to their limit. I have spoken to several people who had been informed that the list for treatment was over 30 weeks long in some places. I myself am one of those people. I was struggling with severe anxiety and depression when I was told that the waiting time to get an initial appointment was about 70 weeks: a year is 52 weeks… They had just told me that I was to wait just under a year and a half before I was to see someone, when what I really needed was the help right there and then.

According to Mind, about a sixth of the population will experience common mental health issues each year with 1 in 20 experiencing PTSD. Compare that to the prevalence of cancer within the UK population, which in 2017, was 2.79%: lets call that 3%. In a room of 100 people, 3 will have cancer, 4 will have PTSD and 17 will experience general common health problems within 12 months.

In the same study, Mind also stated that only 1 in 8 adults who were experiencing mental health difficulties were getting treatment, including the use of medication. So, in our room of 100, only 2 of the 17 are receiving any form of treatment. Isn’t that scary?

So why hasn’t mental health been taken more seriously until now?

For a very long time, mental health was stigmatised and even now is highly misunderstood, even amongst medical professionals. The thing is, it’s hard to compare one person’s version of “mental health” to the next persons and if you haven’t experienced those feelings, well it’s not the easiest to empathise with either. It also isn’t necessarily easy to spot; after all, if you break your leg, you wear a cast, but you don’t turn blue if you have depression.

It’s Now Time to Talk About Our Mental Health!

COVID has provided a disturbingly brilliant platform for us to start talking Mental Health. With many facing financial difficulties, feeling trapped by being stuck at home and unable to experience their usual coping strategies such as sport, dance classes or even just a really big hug from your bestie, its time to find new techniques. It’s never too late to start.

So here we go, Jennifer’s top tips to stay (sort of) sane during Lockdown

Talk About What’s On Your Mind

I put this first, because honestly, I feel it’s the most important thing anyone can do. Opening that barrier between you and someone else will help you stop internalising those feelings. If you can’t do it to your significant other or selected friends, then there are many other places to turn to. I would usually advise Breathing Space, the Samaritans, or if you feel its getting a bit more than that, book a long appointment with your doctor.

Don’t Isolate Yourself Socially

Lockdown would have been a lot harder years and years ago, but now we have all sorts of tools and apps that can keep us in touch with our families and friends: Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook… Or a good old-fashioned phone call works too!

Take a Break

I know, I know: we can’t go out and about, lockdown is still in place, even though the rules are beginning to relax, but I don’t mean jump on a flight to the Bahamas. I mean, if you are feeling uptight, no matter whether you are sat at your desk, lay in your bed or standing in the shower, if you are feeling stressed, tense, panicked, take a deep breath, go and make yourself a cuppa or sandwich, go and stand on your front doorstep, or stick your head out the window and watch the pigeons. Even better go for a walk!

Look After Yourself

Taking a break is all well and good however, exercising and eating healthily is a brilliant way to get your feel-good hormones pumping. Drinking copious amounts of caffeine or alcohol won’t help either, as the caffeine stimulates your body and can therefore mimic the feelings of anxiety, while long-term alcohol use is known to worsen a person’s mental health. So, put down your glass of wine, set up the BBQ and go smell the roses!

Make Lists

This is something I personally struggle with but find very important to do when I’m feeling overwhelmed and end up running about like a mad march hare and have no idea where to start! Well, the first thing to do here is Stop, grab your pen and paper (or open a new text to yourself) and write out a list of everything on your mind: 1 my room is a mess, 2 I need to fill up the car, 3 I forgot to buy milk, 4 the kitchen bin needs emptying. Which is most important? Personally I’d go 4, 3, 2, 1 in this case, but my brain sprang to number one first. Either way, lets tackle it in a sensible manner, let’s make a Plan! So, tonight I’ll take the bin out on my way to getting in the car, then I can fill it up and buy milk at the same time, before coming home to do tidy my bedroom.

Sometimes “Less is More”

At the beginning of Lockdown, I spent every waking moment on the internet and TV watching the news. After the second weak my anxiety Soared. So, I stopped. As it happens, I have a grandad who enjoys watching the news, so he kept me informed of the important things I needed to know. Suddenly, my anxiety dropped again. The less involved I got, the easier it was for me to control my anxiety. Now, I am Not telling you to get up and find a cave and live as a hermit, but instead of having your news popping up on your phone, turn the notifications off. Dedicate a time and space for it.

Get into a Routine

This is actually quite hard, but keeping a daily routine is a brilliant way to keep yourself going. After all, we are creatures of habit!

Be Kind To Yourself

To me, this is The Most Important!!! Many of us have heard RuPaul’s “if you can’t love yourself, how on earth can you love somebody else?!” Loving yourself is the Ideal situation here, but personally speaking, I find loving myself very hard. Which is why I say, “be kind to yourself”. Hold yourself to the standards you would use for other people, not yourself. Why? Because I am my own worst critic, but everyone’s biggest supporter.