By Bronagh Loughlin
COVID-19 has shaken up our lives – it has transformed how we work, interact and communicate with one another, how we shop and where we can go. Positives have come out of COVID-19 such as remote working and gaining back hours from commuting in addition to taking cars off the road and reducing emissions.
However, COVID-19 has also had a huge impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. An Irish Medical Journal on the Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health in Ireland looked at the evidence to date. It found that the combined effect of the pandemic and its associated restrictions has significantly increased psychological distress in one in every five people.
This psychological distress mainly refers to depression and anxiety. In addition, people with mental health conditions prior to the pandemic have also struggled as their regular support systems have not been in operation. One to one counselling and group sessions have moved online.
While the support is still being provided to a degree, it’s not the same. Some individuals worry other family members may be home during these sessions, they may not have a safe space or their appointment does not work out and they have to wait a couple of weeks for it to be rescheduled.
For those who have developed mental health issues from COVID-19, they may struggle to find people to talk to and confide in. Some people were not in a family or friends bubble throughout lockdown. Rather, they were alone. Being alone during these times has been incredibly difficult. When you turn on the news, all you see is how this virus is taking away lives young and old.
Not to mention, the only activity some country governments have permitted is a mere short walk. Even those who live with other people are likely to experience extreme loneliness. It has been a year since the virus entered our lives and many countries are still experiencing extreme lockdowns: Ireland, France, Germany and Denmark in particular.
These countries have been living with intense restrictions for over a year so it is no surprise this is taking its toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing. The pandemic also saw an increase in domestic violence in many countries. In Ireland, an average of 2,000 women and 411 children sought out some type of support from domestic violence services since March 2020.
Beyond feeling lonely and isolated, numerous individuals lost their jobs during COVID-19 and saw their revenue streams dry up. Similarly to the recession, this was sure to raise the stress and anxiety levels in many people. It was also hard to remain hopeful for a new job since so many stores were not permitted to operate, or they closed down completely.
The job pool is getting smaller for people who work in the retail and hospitality sectors. Many businesses have even had to sell their properties as they could no longer afford to keep their business going. There were also those who experienced increased anxiety, stress and fear about the pandemic. They worried for their safety as well as the safety of their family and friends.
Another reason many experienced mental health issues was due to their lives literally being put on hold. There was no longer anything to look forward to. They were operating the same routine – work, sleep, rinse and repeat.
Cinemas, museums, concerts, bars, restaurants and more came to a close. People are no longer able to keep their usual social routines which is resulting in them feeling isolated. The pandemic has also impacted relationships. Families and partners were forced to spend extended periods with each other, adding additional strain to these relationships.
Friday and Saturday nights were now experienced in the home with others, missing usual outings and missing freedom to move about at will. Many countries experienced high suicide rates during the pandemic, in particular Japan. Suicide rates exceeded the average rate from July 2020 onwards. Those dying by suicide were mostly of the millennial age group. The US media has also claimed that millennials have said they experienced suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.
More and more challenges are looming over younger people, in particular, money worries due to the closure of businesses during the pandemic and lack of jobs available as they set out on their careers.
The lockdown is making them feel imprisoned, as though they cannot escape and enjoy their lives. Unfortunately, this has resulted in peaked mental health and high suicide rates in many countries. While the COVID-19 climate makes it difficult to support those with mental health issues, it is ever more important that we talk to and support one another.
Additionally, more attention needs to be brought to mental health issues in the mainstream media and on social media. The pandemic can make anyone feel alone or isolated and given that, we need to call people when we need help. They do not have to always be professionals – they can be a friend, family member or partner. As the friend or family member in the situation, we need to regularly check in with them.
This virus has already taken so much from us, we cannot allow it to continue to take our mental stability away. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is crucial we check in and listen to one another. As they say, an issue shared is an issue halved.
The return of mental health services is also crucial. Not everyone’s home is a safe space where they feel free to communicate openly and comfortably. In addition, the home is usually not the place to communicate when it comes to domestic violence issues.
We need to remember to look after one another. Afterall, we are all human and we should never feel ashamed or embarrassed about feeling the way we do, no matter how complicated they may seem to others. Our mental health and wellbeing should always be our number one priority.
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