2020’s Mental Health Awareness Week was like no other. The lock-down measures implemented by government have kept us from seeing our loved ones and the nation’s collective mental health, one can only assume, has taken quite a hit. The point of this piece is not to focus primarily on the Coronavirus and it’s effect on our mental health, but also politics and what it’s like dealing with these issues as someone who is active within the Labour movement.
One of the most common pieces of advice for dealing with this strange set of circumstances is to steer clear of the news. As someone who has often dealt with anxious thoughts around my physical health, I know that the news can be incredibly jarring; after hearing about all the terrible things happening in the world, and the ins and outs of this terrible disease, even the simplest of changes in my condition are enough to convince me that I’ve contracted the virus and will proceed to pass it on to those I love. For this reason, avoiding the news has my complete endorsement. Most importantly however, is seeking help; sometimes it can seem like a real mountain has to be crossed in order to get the support you need, but it’s such a relief just to be on a waiting list, to have taken that first step. I myself made the decision that enough was enough on around week five of lock-down and got in touch with my GP who referred me to Worcestershire Healthy Minds.
This is where I’ll start to lose some of you, perhaps if you’re less inclined to follow current affairs, but for those of us who are highly politically engaged, I hope I’ll be putting into words what you’ve been feeling since around December.
When you’ve stood on your local high-street in the cold handing out leaflets, collected signatures in the rain at a local school and worn yourself out knocking doors in the dark, all for the Labour movement, to elect a government which you believe will significantly increase your life chances by building homes for your future, strengthening social security to provide you with peace-of-mind should you fall ill and be unable to work, invested in the mental health services you desperately need and it doesn’t work out, the resulting sense of loss is doubly offensive. I specifically remember not feeling sad when I saw that exit poll on December 12th, but numb. Fast-forward to now, and the sense of hopelessness that I and many others on NHS waiting lists feel is only heightened when you consider that this entire shambles could have been averted (or at least handled much more humanely).
I’ve been back and forth in my mind about whether I should post this… sharing my opinion with you won’t provide our local mental health services with the investment they need, and it won’t make the world a less scary place, but I can provide some positive affirmations to make whatever you’re going through seem like less of a mountain to climb.
- You’re not alone: One of the most empowering pieces of advice I’ve received since reaching out and building a support network; anxiety related mental illnesses have a dastardly way of making you believe that you’re crazy, something is wrong with you, you’re broken. This is absolutely not the case; if it were, how would I be writing this? How does your illness have a name? Over one in four people will suffer with a mental health issue at some point in their lives… and that’s just that we know of.
- Things will get better: Another terrible trick that anxiety and other mental health issues will play on you is to convince you that things will never get better, that you have always and will always feel this way. In these moments, it is important to remember and focus your energy on positive forces within your life, be it a family member, partner, friend or even something as simple as a favourite book, song or food. The joy that this brings you is only possible because you are a person, alive and taking up space. Furthermore, potentially the most important thing in your journey to recovery is reaching out and asking for help…
- Help is out there: My advice would be to ask for it; it can feel like an admission of defeat, like you’re embarking on an unwinnable battle against bureaucracy and waiting lists but trust me… it’s worth it. Having someone who knows what they’re talking about listen to what you have to say and tell you that you’re not crazy, that treatment is available, is a huge relief. While there is not nearly enough support for people in our predicament, and a lot of unsubstantiated rhetoric from our leaders, there are still a number of services that you can access.
Healthy Minds (if you live in Worcestershire): https://www.hacw.nhs.uk/self-referral/ (If you live outside Worcestershire, there will likely be equivalent services within your locality)
Remember, if you are in crisis and worried you may pose a danger to yourself or others, please call 999.