Life in Lockdown: Mental Health Under Covid-19
The impact of Coronavirus within the UK has caused one of the most challenging situations that many people will have faced in their lifetime. The continuous stress and uncertainty of the virus, the increase of social isolation in every demographic, and the growing general dissatisfaction with life have taken an incredible toll on the UK’s collective mental health. As noted by Public Health England, there has been a significant rise in anxiety, depression and dissatisfaction with life in the general public since the beginning of the pandemic. As seen in Figure 1, there has been a significant spike in anxiety levels the public experience, with levels spiking with each lockdown (as seen in April 2020, November 2020 and January 2021). Figure 2 shows similar findings, with levels of depression rising during the first lockdown period and remaining steady from September 2020 onwards. Finally, there has been a dramatic drop in the life satisfaction of the general public, with a steady decline in levels of satisfaction from September 2020 onwards.
Figure 1: A chart detailing the increase of anxiety in the general public during the Coronavirus pandemic in the UK 2020-2021, credit to Public Health England
Figure 2: A chart detailing the increase of depression in the general public during the Coronavirus pandemic in the UK 2020-2021, credit to Public Health England
Figure 3: A chart detailing the decrease of life satisfaction in the general public during the Coronavirus pandemic in the UK 2020-2021, credit to Public Health England
These figures demonstrate the wholly negative impact upon the collective mental health of the UK.
On a personal level, the pandemic period has been tough on my mental and physical health. The inability to see my doctor and my family face-to-face impacted me significantly. Through this exhibition, ‘Mental Health Under Covid-19’, I hope to demonstrate the extent to which the pandemic has affected me, not only on an individual basis but also as someone who is clinically vulnerable. Through images and artefacts of my daily life, I hope to look into my mental health, the mental health of the general public, and the toll that Covid-19 has taken upon us all.
My Daily Life
My worries about covid are another set of anxieties to be added to my growing list of medical fears. As a chronically ill person, one who is so very vulnerable to the virus, I have pretty much constant fear that someone will give it to me accidentally. During the first lockdown, I found myself dreading going outside, any more than ten people, and I feel like I’d panic; it is a horrible feeling. This fear of going outside and potentially getting the virus is shared amongst the chronically ill and disabled community, especially when figures from The Health Foundation suggest that out of every ten who die of covid, six of them are disabled. That’s a staggering number. We, as a group, have been let down, forgotten by the government, by our doctors, and the numbers show this. Those that can stay inside must do so, but what about those who can’t? What do we do? We can’t all stay inside 24/7; it is unsustainable and damaging to our mental health. I wear a mask. I scrub my hands constantly, so much so I have cracked knuckles and red, irritated skin. And yet, seeing people outside without masks, not taking things seriously, all while knowing if I got Covid, I’d most likely not recover, hurts. It was easier being “just” chronically ill when you weren’t worrying that someone you know might accidentally kill you.
Emotionally Exhausted; No Point In…
I wore this shirt for eight days and seven nights straight, and I saw no point in getting dressed. My “what’s the point?” attitude was incredibly damaging to my already strained mental state and only ended up making me feel so much worse. During this period, everyone’s mental health has suffered. An ongoing study from The Mental Health Foundation found that the mental health of UK citizens has been gradually deteriorating over the year-long period of the pandemic. While their most recent study (February 2021) demonstrates a reduction of anxiety, depression in those with mental illnesses and chronic illnesses, “54% in June 2020 to 45%, and those with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis 67% in June 2020 to 58%”, it doesn’t change the hopelessness so many of us felt previously. It has and will continue to have long-running effects on our mental health. I’m not proud of how low I was. However, it was a direct result of the pandemic, and it felt entirely inevitable.
Nowhere to Go, Nowhere to Be
The rules enforced by the government when Canterbury was in tier 2 are still on display outside of The Lady Luck. All the rules about not mixing households, keeping at least 1+ metre apart, really made socialising freely incredibly difficult. There is a constant reminder that you need to be careful, follow the rules, and be wary of even your friends if they are carriers of the virus. It is entirely correct to do so. However, I miss how things used to be. While it is incredible that shops are opening again as lockdown restrictions ease, that sense of being carefree has vanished. I’m so weary of going out that it takes away the fun of mindlessly browsing the shops or going to grab a coffee. These activities used to be one of my favourite ways to meet friends, and now they fill me with underlying anxiety: what if it all goes wrong? These worries are not individual to me. In a recent poll from IPSOS Mori, approximately 67% of Britons would be uncomfortable in large public gatherings, and 61% feeling uncomfortable with returning to bars and clubs straight away. Covid-19 has killed the vibe.
These are a collection of notes I’ve made during the lockdown. They show the advice I was given from helplines, reminders from my boyfriend, and why I should stay here. Coping methods, a mix of ones I knew previously and one’s volunteers from mental health helplines have given me. I’m not the only one who has sought help in this manner. According to The British Journal of Psychiatry’s research paper, ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing During the Covid-19 Pandemic’, there has been a significant rise in mental health crises as a direct result of the pandemic. For example, in wave 1 of the pandemic (March 2020 – mid-August 2020), an average of 0.1% reported attempting suicide. However, in wave 3 (January 2021 onwards), the average has jumped to 0.7%, a noticeable jump. In regard to self-harm, during wave 1, there was an average of 0.7%, whereas wave 3 saw an average of 1.4%. These statistics reflected the heightened number of calls and emails received by The Samaritans over the lockdown period, with a 35% increase in call volume. Furthermore, 47% of those have discussed ill mental health due to the pandemic, with 3% more calls for emotional support than the previous year (2019/ early 2020). This lockdown has impacted us significantly, and the long-term effects are the next thing to worry about when this is all over.
Dermatillomania is a behaviour that I have struggled with my whole life. In many cases, it is directly linked to anxiety and stress and almost acts as an indicator of how worried I am – the more I pick, the worse I am. During covid, my skin picking has become more noticeable, the constant use of sanitiser cracking my already damaged skin and making healing painful. Going outside during lockdown causes me so much panic that I always come back with shredded fingers. The increasing presence of people as lockdown eases only makes my condition worse. This increase in anxiety is a shared problem within the UK. The 2020 paper from Nikolett Arato et al., ‘On the Nature of Fear and Anxiety Triggered by Covid-19’, states that our usual mechanisms for fear and anxiety are not applicable in a pandemic. We need “prolonged coping mechanisms” that take months of development to properly handle our stress during this period, which many do not have. The study further states Covid-19 comprises many fears and triggers new anxieties. The development or exacerbation of phobias, such as agoraphobia, nosophobia, and germaphobia, will likely have long-term negative impacts. This, paired with the ONS findings seen previously, paint a grim picture of the UK’s mental health. For me, Covid-19 has only made my mental health harder to handle, and I hope to recover at some point.
Mental Health Under Covid-19: Your Experiences
Follow the link to write on the “exhibit wall” – tell us about your experiences of the pandemic, how was your mental health? How did you cope? What did you do? Have your say!
 Usual coping mechanisms: fight, flight or freeze
 Fear of disease/getting sick.