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 isn't easy. It means making big changes in our lives, like following social distancing guidelines, and now wearing masks.
But masks are not straightforward for everyone. Some of us may find covering our face very hard, or even impossible to cope with. And for those of us with existing mental health problems, masks may pose extra challenges.
If you feel able to wear a mask or face covering, then you must.
But there are some exceptions. The Government says you do not have to wear a mask if you have a 'reasonable excuse' not to.
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 to do with mental health include:
In England, the guidance also specifies that a reasonable excuse would be:
There is no clear-cut definition of 'mental impairment' or 'severe distress' in the mask regulations. These terms may cover a lot of different experiences.
For example, you might feel severely distressed or impaired if wearing a mask triggers acute symptoms of a mental health condition, like:
But even if you don't have an existing mental health diagnosis, you might still feel overwhelmingly anxious, distressed or unwell when wearing a mask.
It can be difficult to judge if you feel unwell 'enough' to be excused from wearing a mask. But remember: you are the expert on your own experience.
Unfortunately, you might find that not everyone understands, or is supportive. This can be really hard to cope with. But you're not alone. It might help to think about extra self-care ideas, to help look after yourself.
If wearing a mask makes you feel panicky or like it's harder to breathe:
If wearing a particular material creates sensory overload:
If wearing a mask steams up your glasses and makes it hard to see:
If covering a part of your face makes you feel uncomfortable in your identity or body image:
If seeing other people in masks make you feel uneasy or afraid:
There are many ways we can be supportive to people who might be struggling with masks.
This information was last updated on 29 July 2020. The content reflects the best advice we have at this time. We will update it as necessary, particularly if there are changes to public health guidance or the law.
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