COVID-19 and the Mental Health Pandemic

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Social distancing, self-isolation, flatten the curve. Just a few weeks ago these were foreign concepts and yet now they’re common vocabulary while the country is in lockdown. Sentences such as “just popping out for my essential trip to the shops/state-mandated daily exercise” are being heard in households across the country … and I can’t be the only one who didn’t think that going on a 30-minute government-approved jog would suddenly turn into the highlight of my day.

With exams, end of term and Extravs cancelled, and graduation postponed, this is not how I thought I’d be leaving uni. I’m a final year student, and right from first year Lancaster has felt like home to me. Four years later, I’m quarantined at my parents’ house, with my final year with my best friends cut short, a global pandemic causing worldwide chaos and a dissertation to finish. Funnily enough, I’m thankful for the few outstanding bits of coursework I have to hand in; as much as these aren’t ideal writing conditions, I’m finding having something to focus on and channel my anxiety into useful.

These are strange, unsettling times. And whilst it’s incredibly important that we all play our part in fighting this virus and saving lives by staying home, there is a social cost to isolation that we’re beginning to see. Human beings are made to live in a community; we thrive on connection. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose social media usage has gone through the roof trying to keep in touch with my uni friends. And as someone who has suffered on and off with debilitating mental illness for the last few years, the current circumstances have exacerbated this. For those of us for whom anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, OCD or other mental illnesses form a part of our daily lives, this is exactly the sort of situation that can make these conditions deteriorate. For me, meeting up with people regularly and getting plenty of fresh air and exercise helped me to maintain and stabilise my mental health. This doesn’t always work, and I’ve often had to rely on medication and counselling as well. Most of the time, these are all things people can do and have access to, yet right now, a lot of that isn’t accessible. Yes, I can still take my medication, but isolation and not getting out of the house are things I and many others associate with periods of poor mental health … yet, ironically, now, they’re what we all need to do to maintain our health and that of those around us.

Additionally, with all the stress and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and the impact of all of this on our studies, our loved ones and our wider society, lots of people will be experiencing mental health difficulties such as low mood and anxiety, caused by the situation we find ourselves in. I’m a history student, so I like studying historical events, but between this, Brexit and climate change, I can emphatically say I don’t like living through them. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the costs of ignoring it as COVID-19 dominates conversation could be deadly. Whilst we all must stay physically distant, we can, and should, still be social, as much as we can. Check in your friends and check in with yourself – how are they, and you, doing? What can you do to take care of yourself? If you need help, don’t let coronavirus stop you from reaching out; we all need to take care of our health, both physical and mental.

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