Audience shot #23: Looking after our mental health
Paying attention to more than just our physical health during Covid-19
A lot of us wondered how to stay happy during lockdown as we contemplated isolation, unemployment and a deadly virus.
Hygiene and looking after our bodies, it goes without saying, have been talked about a LOT during the pandemic. But it seems that the massive changes so many of us have endured this year have resulted in a lot more Brits recognising that looking after their mental health is also vitally important.
In the first three months of lockdown, the Samaritans said that volunteers were reporting that Covid-19 affected every caller in some way. When a caller to the service mentioned Covid-19 as a specific concern, they tended to worry about the impact of isolation, mental ill-health, and unemployment, the charity said. Research by Public Health England published this month shows that 41% of children and young people said they were more lonely than before lockdown, with over a third saying they were more worried, more stressed and/or sadder.
Staying well gains in importance
The issue of mental health is widely discussed these days, but a lot of the focus is on people who have issues, and how we can identify and treat psychological conditions. What’s interesting is how the pandemic seems to have inspired people who are currently well to find out how they can stay that way.
Google Trends shows that in the UK, as schools, offices and non-essential shops closed, we were wondering how to ‘stay sane’ more than we had at any point since the search engine data began in 2004.
Millennials have long been expounding the benefits of self care, but the concept really came into its own just as lockdown began, with searches hitting a five-year high.
Solitary lockdown manual 😳Shadow working the hell out of this shit #mentalhealthawarenessweek
Here’s a comparison of people looking up ‘stay happy’ versus ‘am I depressed’ over the past five years. The only time the former has been more common that the latter in the UK is just as lockdown started.
Having said that, there’s some quite sad data — searches by Brits for ‘I’m lonely’ were higher in early lockdown than at any point over the past five years, for example.
And by early April, we were wondering ‘how to make friends online’ more than ever in the past year.
Mindfulness makes inroads
Discussions about mental health often go hand in hand with the idea of mindfulness, with plenty of research indicating that it can help our wellbeing to pay attention to what’s going on in the moment. Even the NHS recommends the practice, offering its own course in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
It seems people are listening, with searches for ‘meditation app’ higher than at any point in the past five years during lockdown.
Well-known mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm were frequently downloaded, but actor Chris Hemsworth and director Taika Waitit were also helping the trend by publicising their new guided meditation tracks recorded especially for children.
Talking it out
Another spike can be seen in searches for ‘online therapy’. As lockdown wore on, we wanted to find out about it more than at any point in the past five years — and there were related trending searches for ‘relationship counselling’ and ‘family counselling’, according to Google.
Does the era of Zoom counselling spell the end of the therapist’s couch? Virtual therapy is convenient, but it doesn’t suit everyone — especially if you live with other people and are worried ‘that a housemate or a neighbour could overhear me talking about things that should be kept private’, as one therapy goer said. According to Google Trends, since life started returning to normal people are looking up ‘therapist near me’ in levels comparable to before lockdown.
Isolation isn’t the only issue
A large portion of people were worried about how they’d cope being stuck at home. But for others it was the end of isolation that was the problem. Searches for ‘social anxiety disorder’ rose just as lockdown in the UK was easing.
I've been spending the past couple days being a bit more kinder to myself 💗 . Yesterday I was…
Here’s a comparison of people looking up ‘scared to go out’ versus ‘scared to be alone’ over the lockdown period, suggesting that although loneliness was talked about a lot, it’s actually not the only issue we should be thinking about.
What’s ailing us most?
There are some related trends to shed light on the problems driving people to hunt for therapists at the moment, with Google highlighting ‘addiction’ and ‘anger management’ among the related topics that are seeing increased interest.
This is in keeping with statistics showing that as a nation we’ve bought more alcohol this year, and that the stresses of 2020 will lead to an increase in problem drinking.
Some people said that isolation was a catalyst to quit booze for good.
For other self-described alcoholics, maintaining sobriety has become more challenging — especially while Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were unable to take place.
Whatever it is that’s driving you to seek help, one well-known therapist had a word of advice.
Others did have answers though — in the form of, what else, listicles. The media treated us to guides to mindfulness apps, tips for staying sane and ways to avoid sadness, among many other pieces of advice.
Are we permanently scarred by 2020?
It’s too soon to count the mental health costs of Covid-19, with the Samaritans urging caution about interpreting any statistics relating to causes of death at this stage but the sad fact is that there are plenty of us who’ve lost family and friends this year because they didn’t feel able to carry on living in these circumstances.
Without diminishing these tragedies, there is some speculation that the dramatic pause in normal could lead to better mental health for those of us who’ve had a real chance to think about what’s important in life.
Laurie Santos is a professor and the creator of Yale’s hugely popular research-based course The Science of Wellbeing, which was made available for free online earlier this year (almost three million of us have enrolled, to date). She is one of those experts who has some optimism that after the pain and stress of 2020, there might be an upside. She told The Guardian in June: “The hope is that once we get back [to our post-pandemic lives], we’ll really be able to value what matters and really enjoy what we took for granted before.”