Explains why masks can cause difficult feelings, and gives practical tips on how to cope. Includes information on exemptions for mental health reasons.
We all want to help stop the spread of coronavirus. And we know it feels difficult. It means making big changes in our lives, like social distancing and wearing masks.
But masks are not easy for everyone. Some of us may find covering our face very hard, or even impossible to cope with.
Others may find it hard to interact with people who are wearing masks, or not wearing them. And for those of us with existing mental health problems, masks may pose extra challenges.
"I get very anxious about all the people who wear masks, they make me feel like I am full of dirt and germs."
If you feel able to wear a mask or face covering, then you must.
But there are circumstances where people may not be able to. The Government says you do not have to wear a mask if you have a 'reasonable excuse'.
You might also hear people talking about being 'exempt' or having a 'mask exemption'.
The exact guidance on how this applies to mental health conditions is written differently for England and Wales. And it’s being updated quite often. But in practice the meaning is similar.
In both nations, reasonable excuses for mental health include:
In England, the guidance also specifies that a reasonable excuse would be:
There are no clear-cut definitions of 'mental impairment' or 'severe distress' in mask regulations. These terms may cover a lot of different experiences.
For example, wearing a mask might trigger acute symptoms of your mental health condition. Because of this, you might feel impaired or severely distressed.
Some examples might be:
It can be hard to judge if you feel 'unwell enough' to have a reasonable excuse not to wear a mask. But remember: you are the expert on your own experience.
You might not have an existing mental health diagnosis. But you may still feel overwhelmingly anxious, distressed or unwell when wearing a mask.
You don't need to prove you have a reasonable excuse. There's no legal document or proof that you need to carry on you.
If you're challenged about not wearing a mask, you could:
Unfortunately, you might find that not everyone understands, or is supportive. This can be hard to cope with, but you're not alone. Consider trying some general self-care tips and ideas to help look after yourself.
If wearing a mask makes you feel panicky or like it's harder to breathe, you could:
"It's so hard to wear a mask and carry on all day when underneath I feel sheer panic."
If wearing a particular material creates sensory overload, you could:
"I feel very claustrophobic and the masks make my face sore."
If wearing a mask steams up your glasses and makes it hard to see, you could:
If covering part of your face makes you feel uncomfortable in your body image or identity, you could:
If seeing other people in masks makes you feel uneasy or afraid, you could:
There are many ways we can be supportive to people who might be struggling with masks.
This information was last updated on 18 December 2020.
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