I am feeling a lot of fear right now and it’s not because of the possibility of contracting COVID-19, it’s because of the possibility of my mental health deteriorating to a point which is unmanageable. I’m worried that I’m going to return to some of the dark places in my mind that I frequented when Clinically Depressed five years ago.
I am currently doing my best to be socially distant from the world, something which required no effort to do when I was Clinically Depressed, but now that I’m not it’s a whole lot harder.
I can’t deny that social distancing is the logical approach to suppressing this pandemic and savings lives. But the trouble with logic is that it doesn’t take into account emotions and emotions play a big part in mental health.
In my efforts to abide by social distancing and do my bit to help humanity, I am distancing myself from all of the things that have helped me to overcome my mental health issues in the past:
Going to public places every day and mixing with other people, striking up conversations with strangers, smiling at those who I walk past, chatting with the barista who makes me my coffee, befriending the homeless in my town center.
All of these things help me to feel connected to other people which, for someone who is prone to depression, has been of vital importance in improving my mental health. Yet, for now, my social comfort blanket is gone. I am trying to take comfort in the fact that I am now connected with others through our joint battle against COVID-19, but I can’t deny that it’s hard to feel connected through a joint struggle against something that I can’t see. Yet therein lies the biggest threat posed by the Coronavirus — that we can’t see it and we run the risk of belittling the very real risk that it poses to us.
Today I ventured outside to buy groceries and my local town was eerily quiet. I could hear the wind whistle loudly in the empty space between shops that used to be filled with people going about their day, the few people I saw were at a distance and they were mostly faceless — scarfs or masks covering them. I looked through the glass windows of the coffee shops I used to frequent, tables were piled on top of each other, chairs stacked, the barista was on his hands and knees disinfecting the floor. He caught me looking, we shared a smile before he got back to his work. It was a small moment, but it was enough to make me feel connected to something beyond my own struggles.
I feel selfish and slightly ashamed for worrying about my mental health when the physical health of the world’s population is currently at risk. I feel even more guilty for lamenting the very thing (social distancing) that will protect the physical health of the public.
But then I suspect that there are others like me, who are concerned about their mental health during these times. And when I think of these people, I wouldn’t want them to feel ashamed of their worries. Being ashamed of your mental health issues nearly always leads to a suppression of them and suppression — trying to desperately to hide the crumbling fragments of your sanity behind the facade of a smiling face — has the potential for disastrous consequences, some of which are on a par with the consequences of contracting COVID-19.
It wouldn’t be much good if we reduced the strain on our health services through a reduction in the cases of COVID-19, only for the strain to then be increased by those who are suffering from the consequences of a mental breakdown, a suicide attempt, the list could go on but the point is; People with mental health issues can need hospital beds too. Sadly, I know this all too well.
We have to try our best to stop this pandemic from spreading and we have to play our part in socially distancing ourselves from one another. But none of this means that we must forget the importance of people’s mental health in the process.
We need to look out for one another emotionally, as well as physically.
If you phone your friend to enquire as to whether he has contracted COVID-19, try to ask him how he’s feeling emotionally as well. Has he been feeling low, crying more than usual? I certainly have. Try to be emotionally available to people and have empathy for what they are feeling — this is a big help to someone whose mental health is suffering. Even if it is just through phone calls, texts, and emails. Anything is better than silent isolation when your mind is in a dark place.
I don’t think that social distancing has to mean complete social isolation, the modern technology we have at our disposal provides us with channels of communication that eliminate the need for physical proximity. It is a cruel irony that the very thing so many of us have accused of putting distance between human beings — smartphones, tablets, perpetual email checking — could now be the one thing that keeps us connected.
We have to use what we can to stay connected and we must use these connections to support one another in ways that only humans can, with love, compassion, and empathy. Through an expression of such qualities towards one another, we can look after each other’s mental health whilst doing our socially distant best to protect our physical health too.
Thanks For Reading,