I was very touched today when Drgettingsober commented on my last post saying that she was worried that I hadn’t been around for a couple of weeks. I was really taken aback that she should say that but then I reflected that I have felt the same when certain bloggers haven’t appeared for a while. It means there’s a real, genuine care out there. A concern for how people, we haven’t met, but we know from their posts, are doing. That seems to be something special and so in light of that I’m going to do my bit and post a bit more regularly.
I had thought,”who cares about whether you drink or not when all this other stuff is going on,” but of course this forum is about so much more than that. On the drinking side I’m just glad that I now don’t drink; firstly I want to be fully aware and cognisant of what’s going on so that I can make good choices and secondly my immune system is my personal doctor and drug supplier that will hopefully get me through this crisis. I don’t want that amazing ally to be weakened and compromised by alcohol.
So I thought I’d make a couple of observations about the impact of the virus on mental health. I volunteer with Samaritans which for those not in the UK, is a national helpline for those in need of a confidential talk with a supportive listener. It’s often referred to as a suicide helpline but this is only a part of what the service offers. People ring in who are lonely, had a bad day, have ongoing mental health needs, maybe suffering abuse; basically people in distress. As you can imagine the topic that comes up all the time at the moment is the virus situation. For those with mental health needs the fear and uncertainty has just added an extra layer of anxiety thus adversely affecting most people’s emotional well being. Our role is to listen and understand, to be a compassionate point of contact for people who may feel frightened and isolated. We can also signpost to organisations that can offer direct advice and additional support.
Going on duty I was expecting the negative aspects of how the fear and anxiety was impacting on people’s mental health. How do you reassure those with pre existing anxiety and OCD issues? It’s not easy. But then another theme emerged which really surprised me. Some of this came from callers but also a friend who suffers from anxiety and depression. The surprising theme was that now others were experiencing what they had been experiencing for years they felt strangely comforted. Staying at home, living with anxiety. This was becoming a “normal” situation suddenly for so many and a few who suffered from depression actually felt better knowing that they were not alone. It’s a strange kind of logic but I get it. There is a comfort when after years of feeling you are missing out on the regular stuff of life, that others are going through the same thing, albeit involuntarily. My friend with depression also feels more positive now in that he feels he can help others and this has boosted his confidence and self esteem. Some who are isolated and have been for years showing empathy for those that now have to feel isolation maybe for the first time. Surprising stuff.
All of this shows me we have to be careful in assuming this crisis is a one way ticket to a worsening mental health situation. Of course many will have increased anxiety and feelings of hopelessness but others will be strangely comforted and energised by no longer feeling they are the only ones suffering. Also in our physical isolation many of us are reaching out, using means such technology and music to connect, setting up neighbourhood help schemes, applauding health workers every night at 8pm (Spain) and looking at creative ways to maintain our lives in difficult times. That’s got to be good for our collective mental health.
One thing that the Samaritans work shows me is that just being there for someone, the simple act of listening to someone who needs to pour it out, can make a big difference. Not everyone is going to experience worse mental health in these tough times, some may even see an improvement, but being there for each other will make a difference. Just like it does on these blogs.
Take care all. Jim x
Samaritans Here’s a link if you want to find out more. Oh, and volunteers always required 🙂