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Today is the final day of Mental Health Awareness Week. In the second of our blogs, Deputy Leader of Birmingham Labour Council Brigid Jones writes about the impact that the lockdown has had on our mental health.
Mental health has had a high profile since we went into lockdown just two months ago. Even the most healthy mind must have had a wobble over the news that an international pandemic meant that we had to stay indoors. It was impossible not to feel a gut punch at the news that the airport was to host a temporary morgue. The trickle of news didn’t help. It took a full four days after the government told people to stop eating out and drinking in pubs before they announced that there would be a job retention scheme and help for those sectors. Thousands of people lost their jobs in those days and thousands more were left terrified as to what the future would hold for their carefully-built business. The landing was so bumpy that it was almost a relief when lockdown bought some certainty, at least in the very short term.
We know that huge swathes of society are struggling with lockdown, from money catastrophes to living with abusive partners to missing other people. For those that have lost loved ones, there is no consolation to be had at a time when you cannot attend a funeral and mourn with those you love.
But what is less reported is that for some people’s mental health, some aspects of lockdown have actually been positive. For many, long commutes have vanished or sped up. Crossing the road or cycling no longer involves dicing with death. Evening engagements and breakfast sessions are out of the diary. There is time for hobbies and relaxation. There’s time to call relatives and friends who haven’t been seen in a long time. Not everything about the life we had before was positive, and for a lot of people, this has been a time to slow down and to take stock.
For me, it’s been a bit of both. I was going up the walls for the first few weeks, adjusting to working from home for the first time and badly missing seeing people. My family live 200 miles away, and I was facing the prospect of not seeing them for a very long time; no 2 metre distanced meet ups in the park for me. But as this has gone on, the benefits of not working a 60 hour week any more are starting to show – dinner meetings, election campaigning and ward forums have dropped out of the diary as they’re not physically possible any more. I’m still doing a full time job, but getting all that time back has, I have to admit, been amazing.
What does this mean for the future? It’s been widely reported that we face a tsunami of people needing counselling, particularly those from the health service and those who have lost people and cannot grieve as they need to. But we also need to look at the flip side of the coin, and how we preserve some of the silver linings to the awful cloud that has come over us. That’s a harder conversation to have whilst the need of those suffering is so great, but if we are serious about tackling the mental health epidemic our society had even before all of this, it’s vital that we do.
Don’t suffer in silence. Seek help if you need to.
Birmingham Council’s website on Mental Health support is here.
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health Rosena Allin-Khan has 5 tips to look after your Mental Health here.
Watch Birmingham Labour Group’s Mental Health Champion Paulette Hamilton reflect on Mental Health Awareness Week here.