This Pandemic has meant 10’s of thousands have had to cope with the early deaths of loved ones and 100’s of thousands left to deal with a long-term illness caused by ‘Long-Covid’. Millions have been impacted by fear, isolation, loneliness, the economic fallout of lockdowns, domestic abuse, addiction, and poverty.
With a national lock-down again in Wales, new lockdown tiers in Scotland, and increasing lockdowns across England, have we now reached a point where we have all had enough?
Would we all just prefer the pandemic to run its course (whatever the impact) so we all get back to normal, and is ‘normal’ even possible again? Those are all questions for today, but a question for the future is whether this pandemic has taught us anything collectively about the importance of Mental Wellbeing that can help us as a society?
How has the Pandemic impacted our Mental Wellbeing?
At the start of the lockdown, the first thoughts and actions were on how we could protect people physically from the effects of the virus, and ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases. In the first Downing Street briefing, Professor Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer for England) mentioned the difficult balancing act between imposing lockdowns to fight the virus and the consequences of those lockdowns. Little however has been voiced publicly about the impact of Mental Wellness on the population since that comment. Until recently.
The first wave of the pandemic saw a brief time for many when they could spend time with partners and children in ways that busy lives usually did not allow. That was good. However, millions were isolated and cut-off from physical contact with friends and family. Fear of the virus made some prisoners in their own homes. Domestic abuse increased. People with existing mental health issues were made worse. Suicides increased. On all measures, the Pandemic challenged the Mental Wellbeing of millions.
Seven months later we find ourselves again with rising virus infections, hospital admissions, and deaths. This is accompanied by the return of working from home (if you are fortunate enough to still have employment), social curfews, increasing lockdown measures, no travel, and not seeing friends and family. A feeling of isolation, loneliness, and fear for many has returned. For some these feelings have however been present throughout the pandemic.
But this time around lockdowns seem different. Today, we see increasing frustration, anger, and defiance from many. We also see more attention being paid in the media to the question of people’s mental wellbeing. Questions are being asked on whether we are reaching a point where the measures being taken to control the virus are hurting more people than they are helping and protecting. Just as Chris Whitty had warned may happen.
We all know that an increased feeling of being alone is harmful to both our mental and physical health. Isolation can be caused by many factors, not only an airborne virus, like being withdrawn because of healthcare, alone because of anxiety or perhaps distanced simple because of having or feeling they don’t have family, friends of others to lean on for support.
A staggering 87% of people surveyed experience stress because of Covid-19.
Many studies found that worry about getting Covid-19, as well as loneliness, have been directly associated with anxiety, depression, and stress. Stress because of work (and unemployment), panic because of the situation, anxiety with the lack of control, depression because of extra childcare, lethargic due to lack of exercise, poor diet and not being given the freedom to get out into the fresh air. These store up problems for today, but also for the long-term health and wellbeing of society.
For many people, the thought of the long-term impact on the health of millions because of the lockdown measures is starting to outweigh any impact the virus can have.
So, should we just stop measure to fight Covid-19?
Given the economic pain and the growing issues of lockdown measures, it should be no surprise that some voices are now being heard that challenge the accepted wisdom of using lockdowns to fight Covid-19. Some even say that it would be better to just let the virus run its course. So, would that be a better strategy?
To consider this we should remind ourselves of the Virus’s impact so far.
We know the headline statistics. As of today (23/20/2020) 810k cases and over 43,347 deaths. We also know about the additional excess deaths because people were not able to access healthcare as they should, which takes the numbers to over 65k. In addition, there are an estimated 900k people in the UK left with ‘long-Covid’. This is a debilitating and life-changing illness that should not be taken lightly (Note – the author has been suffering from this since March and it has caused life-changing impacts for him)
What we may have forgotten though is that at the start of the Pandemic it was forecast that c.500k people in the UK would die from Covid-19 if it were left to run its course. To give that a bit of scale…
In WWII there were 384,000 British soldiers killed in combat and 70,000 civilians. 40,000 of the civilians died in the seven-month period (the blitz) between September 1940 and May 1941. That is less than the Covid-19 deaths figure for a 4-month period this summer.
You can draw your own conclusions on these numbers and whether we should be taking Covid-19 seriously. Most people, however, would understand that on a human level we can’t just stand back and do nothing, let Covid-19 run its course in the UK, and accept that half a million souls will die prematurely, and millions will be left debilitated by long-term illness.
Is there another way to fight Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently announced that it had changed its original stance on lockdowns. It called for world leaders to stop “using lockdowns as your primary control method” of the coronavirus.
Dr. David Nabarro from the WHO said – “Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer… The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganise, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.””
Instead, Dr Nabarro is advocating for a new approach to containing the virus.
“And so, we really do appeal to all world leaders: stop using lockdown as your primary control method. Develop better systems for doing it. Work together and learn from each other.”
That is a challenge for world leaders, including UK leaders. For the sake of people’s Mental Wellbeing (and not only the economy), but we must also collectively find another way to combat Covid-19. And, we must do it soon if the personal suffering of millions and tens of thousands of excess deaths in the long-term that are not connected to having the virus is to be avoided.
Recognizing and talking about this is, of course, the first step, but achieving it will be much harder to achieve, and some may say it is impossible. But, it does seem (for the sake of millions of people) that we are now reaching a point where it seems to be a critical imperative that we at least try to find strategies that don’t rely on lockdowns as the first weapon of choice for Governments.
What can we learn from the Pandemic about our human needs for Mental Wellbeing?
Our mental wellbeing is provided by basic human needs throughout life for nourishment, shelter, security, love, friendship, attachment, and self-actualisation. Absence, or loss, of these things, can undermine our mental well-being. This can manifest behaviours in us that undermine our personal happiness and our opportunity to live fulfilling lives.
But Mental Wellbeing (Mental Health) is a subject we have long avoided speaking about in society. Our lives and traditional economies are also not organised around supporting or promoting this for people or even helping people understand the issues and develop coping strategies. We live fast-paced stressful lives at one extreme, or ones on the brink of (or in) relative poverty. There are few who have been lucky enough obtained the fabled ‘work-life balance’.
There is much we need to learn on the question of Mental Wellbeing and ensure we teach this to the next generation as an important life subject. Before we can do that however we need to answer the question in general on how important we really think Mental Wellness is for our society and agree what lengths will we go to in ensuring we have a society that values it as something everyone should be entitled to.
The ‘Groves of Reflection’ that are being created in the Forest of Memories are designed to recognise these questions (and others), help people reflect on the importance of Mental Wellbeing, and also to give support to those who may need it. We wish to address this to recognise that this issue has been highlighted for millions during the Pandemic, but also as part of the themes of the Forest of Memories to create ways to educate, help, and support the next generation.
We hope you can join us on this journey to create a Forest of Memories because of Covid-19.