More than half fear lockdown ending as pandemic's impact on mental health laid bare
The majority of people are worried about seeing and being near others once lockdown restrictions are fully relaxed, research carried out by the mental health charity Mind has found.
The study, which nearly 10,000 people in England took part in, revealed 55% of adults and young people had this concern, with 46% of those who have already been vaccinated saying they are still worried they will catch coronavirus.
A total of 1 in 4 adults and more than 1 in 6 young people experienced mental distress for the first time during the pandemic, according to Mind’s research.
The latest NHS figures also show the number of people in contact with mental health services is the highest since the first lockdown (1.27million) and the number of urgent referrals to crisis care has increased by a fifth (19%) since the beginning of the year.
Of the thousands of people who told Mind about their anxieties about restrictions lifting, almost a third said financial concerns are a growing issue for them (32%).
The pandemic has also seen an increasing number of people supporting others with mental health problems, with nearly half (49%) of respondents saying they feel they will have to help others more once restrictions completely ease.
And while many will be enjoying the re-opening of shops and pubs, 46% say they are struggling to kick bad habits they have picked up during lockdown.
Lauren Stevens, 30, from Surrey has previously experienced depression and anxiety and has found the uncertainty around lockdown coming to an end has triggered her mental health problems.
She said: “The more we lived through the pandemic and adapted to the 'new normal', understanding how to protect ourselves and our loved ones, I started to enjoy the fact that we had to do less, and I've really enjoyed doing the more basic things like walks and picnics. When I was feeling isolated and overwhelmed, I found a source of support through art therapy with my local Mind, in Kingston which has been invaluable to my wellbeing.
“I'm not sure when lockdown will end so I'm trying my hardest to just focus on the here and now. I find the chopping and changing with the dates for restrictions easing brings on the overwhelming feeling and is triggering for my anxiety, but I've found coping mechanisms to try and deal with this which mainly consist of not watching the news so much and not really having too many conversations about covid.
“My social anxiety has become quite bad again - since restrictions have started to ease, I have found myself slipping back into old ways of cancelling plans last minute because the anxiety of being in social settings takes over. I over think how I'm going to be, how I'm going to hold a conversation, what others are going to think of me etc.”
Angelica -Jane Onyekwere, 22, is a student from London. She has anxiety and depression and has found lockdown has helped her mental health. She is now concerned about it ending.
She said: "I experience a lot of panic attacks so, for me, lockdown has been a blessing in disguise. I felt for the first time in a while I could slow down. I usually experience anxiety throughout the day, to the point that I get extremely exhausted, so staying at home more of the time allowed me to rest.
“I also enjoyed having more time to invest in my hobbies, even teaching myself to play the guitar and produce my own music, writing my own album and doing art, which all helped my mental health. Online exams were so much better for me and Zoom calls meant I could communicate with people without experiencing as much stress, so life became less overwhelming.
"Now that lockdown is easing, I worry more about how I am going to return to normality and whether my anxiety will be worse than before."
Responding to the research findings, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
“While coronavirus restrictions may be lifting next month in England, we know the mental health consequences of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. The UK Government must prioritise continued access to proper support.
“Politicians shouldn’t assume that the end of restrictions will be good news for all – many people will struggle with the change. We know a huge number of people have developed a mental health problem since the start of the pandemic and some groups have been hit particularly hard, including young people, those on low incomes and people from racialised communities. The UK Government must level up its pandemic recovery plans, so these groups don’t pay the price for decades to come.
“Many thousands of people will be left with long term impacts from this period, whether because of bereavement, unemployment, trauma or the weathering effect of life during lockdown. A range of support must be properly funded, from talking therapies to inpatient beds in safe and therapeutic settings, so people get the right support at the right time.”