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World Mental Health Day: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted people's mental health?

On World Mental Health Day, member of the Mental Health Action Group and Healthwatch West Berkshire Voluntary Board Member Adrian Barker looks at the findings of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on people's mental health.

Covid has been exclusively bad for people’s mental health, right? Wrong!

Actually there is a big variation in whether, and how much, people have been affected.

That was the lesson – since backed up by national research – from the fifth public 'Thinking Together' event organised by Healthwatch West Berkshire & The Mental Health Action Group, a sub group of The West Berkshire Health and Well Being Board.

Lockdowns have had both a positive and negative effect on people's mental health.
Lockdowns have had both a positive and negative effect on people's mental health.

It brings together people with mental health problems, those who support them, the voluntary sector and the professionals from health, council & other services tasked with helping them get more balance to their Mental Health and manage their condition.

Even if the experience of lockdowns was negative overall, most people found at least something positive.

It could have been avoiding the commute or the stresses of going into work, it could have been having time to stroll in the many woods or countryside that West Berkshire has to offer or it could be the community spirit and neighbourliness that the pandemic threw up.

Healthwatch West Berkshire in action.
Healthwatch West Berkshire in action.

However, overall, for the majority of people the experience was negative. For many there was concern at the encroaching epidemic or the loss of loved ones. Most people missed the opportunity to see friends and family face to face.

The loss of income or trying to work from home while home-schooling children created additional stress.

The point is that how people were affected depended on the particular permutation of interlocking factors – your job (or lack of it), whether you have children at home, your living conditions, personality and any existing mental health conditions.

However, we didn’t just react to the pandemic, we found ways to deal with it.

Perhaps the most obvious method, and the one that made Zoom a household word, was the increased use of technology for communications.

Again, there were positive and negative aspects. For many, while not perfect, it did at least mean people could meet up again. It also cut down on the travel time for meetings. But for others, and especially those with existing mental health problems or (according to national research) those over 65, communicating via the computer actually made things worse rather than better.

So there’s a lot to learn, not just for the next pandemic when – not if – it comes, but also for every day life.

We need to build on the good things like neighbourliness and enjoying nature. Get rid of the bad things, like unnecessary stress at work.

And we need to build on the innovations, like making better use of technology – but only where it works for people.

But above all, we have to plan for the fact that everyone is different.

If you’d like to find out more about Healthwatch West Berkshire’s Thinking Together events go to www.HealthwatchWestBerks.org.uk or call 01635 886 21

You can find more help and advice from the following organisations:

Time to Talk: www.t2twb.org or call (01635) 760331. You can also find help and advice on the charity’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (all @t2twb) or by emailing hello@t2twb.org

You can visit www.recoveryinmind.org and find a number of resources to help you look after your mental health.

Eight Bells for Mental Health: www.eightbellsnewbury.co.uk – call 07387 962220 – email coordinator@eightbellsnewbury.co.uk

Talking Therapies – www.talkingtherapies.berkshirehealthcare.nhs.uk – call 0300 365 2000

Mental Health Crisis Team – call if you need urgent help, but it’s not an emergency 0300 365 0300 or 0300 365 9999

Sane Line – www.sane.org.uk – call 0300 304 7000

The Samaritans: www.samaritans.org – call 116 123 – email jo@samaritans.org

Childline: www.childline.org.uk – 0800 1111

Mind: www.mind.org.uk – 0300 123 3393 or text 86463

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