Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Coronovirus has turned the world upside down and at the bottom of the pile are the poor, the vulnerable and those with mental health issues and at worst those in all three categorizes. As many of us now have more time at home to play games, procrastinate, improve our cooking skills, evaluate and think about the world; what an opportunity it is to work out what we do for those people who aren’t as fortunate as us.
When we are in the midst of a pandemic, it can be hard (if not impossible) to figure out how coronavirus compares to previous outbreaks such as swine flu and SARS, and what lessons we have learned from the past. At the end of this, we can expect the usual litany of endless statistics, analysis, finger pointing and blame. However, there will also be a huge number of good things that come out of it. I sincerely hope that we see a shift in how we manage mental health and the whole care and support structure around those with mental health issues. Today, I am not so positive as I see friends and family members struggle to cope with their mental health. This Includes my daughter who has lost all perspective of reality and is being controlled by her trauma and dominant “voices”. The “care” system has spat her out and rejected her as “too difficult”.
Our mental health system was already on its knees, so who do mentally unwell people now turn to in a crisis, when they are told to self-isolate? They can't see their friends, their primary carer is probably collapsing with exhaustion and their care worker is in isolation. They can’t even get through to the Samaritans as their numbers are down more than 70% in volunteer staff in some branches. The results can be devastating as was recently reported by the Daily Mail (Daily Mail), a girl of 19, died in hospital after trying to take her own life over fears of being 'stuck inside' by coronavirus self-isolation.
The side effects of this crisis have been highlighted from across the pond, in a NBC (NBC) article stating it “is something mental health professionals are scrambling to address amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, especially as health resources are diverted to the most immediate concerns. The scale of those concerns in turn is precisely what makes this time an unprecedented stressor for even the most well-adjusted among us.”
As a proponent of positive thinking I do believe that when humanity has its back against the wall some incredible things happen. Just think of some of the good that came out of the darkness of WWII such as:
The UN, replacing the much weaker League of Nations.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The welfare state.
Radio navigation and landing.
Penicillin, synthetic rubber and oil, and radar.
V-2 (space travel) and jet engines.
Nuclear power and computers.
Maybe we will see an amazing positive shift in how we view our whole society in terms of work-life balance, the welfare state and our NHS, and the topic most close to my heart, mental health and mental illness. It seems the fire that was burning in me to help the less fortunate and fight for a better way to support those with mental health is now an inferno. I have come to the realisation that whilst everyone is eager to volunteer at a time of crisis, and this is fantastic, very few people are prepared or trained to do the “dirty” work. I really do understand why as it is tough and it can be frightening to look after someone who is mentally unstable or an old person with dementia, particularly with the fear of catching coronavirus or passing it on. Mental illness is very scary and alien to most of us, as I have experienced first-hand on many occasions. I have always had the highest regard for front line mental health workers, but now more than ever I think even more highly of them.
I haven’t yet seen a solution to how we protect the most mentally unwell people long-term, but I do believe education, awareness and action are the first steps. Longer term we need a more caring society with therapeutic centres in every town; we need pre-emptive education therapy and support in our schools and communities. But what can we do right now?
I urge you to find out what is happening with your family and friends and see who needs help and who is helping the carers. Use your time to talk to those in need and if you’re healthy enough yourself and observing “safeguarding” and “social distancing” offer your help in getting medication, supplies or just a door-step visit if appropriate and in a short distance.
If you’re up for it volunteer with the council or a local care company to be trained as a carer or mental health worker and start the online training. If you are really committed, then please continue this fight beyond coronavirus.
We have seen a huge outpouring of kindness and support in our communities, and I really do believe that if we put our minds to it, we are capable (as a society) of dealing with this crisis and of helping the most vulnerable, now and in the future