Going through a global health pandemic and experiencing a nationwide lockdown is no small feat, and attempting to deal with both has had a big impact on a lot of people’s mental health.
It’s only natural to struggle in times of chaos and confusion, and I’d be surprised if anyone made it through the isolation period without having even one rough day.
A lot of people have taken to social media to discuss their lack of productivity, an inability to sleep and the difficulties of not being able to see friends and family, and while different people struggled with different aspects of lockdown, most of the issues come down to mental health.
Conversation about our mental wellbeing has become more common in recent years, but it’s still not often explicitly addressed, so people can still struggle with opening up about it.
Tom Nevill, from Surrey, found that lockdown had mixed effects on his mental health. Having suffered with PTSD from a young age, the 29-year-old was used to managing his mental health with coping mechanisms, but when the UK went into lockdown he found his routine had gone out of the window.
On the flip side, Tom also told UNILAD he did feel calmer initially, as he was more comfortable with not having to be in busy work meetings and lecture halls.
At 15 years old, Tom was diagnosed with PTSD following the death of his dad three years earlier. He experienced lucid dreams and panic attacks and found himself withdrawing from social events, but he didn’t speak to anyone about his troubles because he felt he was ‘tough’ and could cope by himself.
I felt like speaking up would have been a weakness on my part and at the time I didn’t want to burden my family and friends with that. It’s only now that I can reflect and see what the consequences of not talking and being honest really were, and how much worse they were than the perceived burden I’d be by explaining my problems.
Tom took up running to help expel some of his nervous energy, and he began to use the exercise as time to rationalise his thoughts. After lockdown was announced, and with his regular daily routine no longer possible, Tom committed himself to running 262 miles (420km) in July to raise money – the equivalent of 10 marathons.
Discussing his decision, Tom said:
I felt great setting myself the challenge, it gave me a focus when a few of my other personal goals had to be put on hold. It also gave me something else to talk about when not much was happening in the country!
I really enjoy running, but taking on such a big challenge meant it wasn’t always as fun as usual. One thing that made me feel really great was the support I received from family, friends and colleagues. The kindness and encouragement I received was above and beyond what I could ever have expected, it really spurred me on in the rain and through pain; I’m still getting ‘well dones’ left, right and centre.
The challenge served as a really good way to open up the conversation about my struggles, people I have lost and how I was feeling about it all, at an especially emotional time of the year.
Since taking on the challenge, Tom has raised almost £900 through his ongoing fundraiser, which has a goal of £1,500.
While running helped Tom maintain good mental health during lockdown, he also recognised the importance of discussing his feelings with others.
A study conducted by the charity Samaritans surveyed almost 2,000 men aged 18 to 59 and found 42% felt lockdown restrictions have had a negative impact on their mental health, citing concerns such as loneliness and/or isolation, anxiety, financial worries and separation from loved ones.
Of those surveyed, 40% said talking to others helped with their concerns and worries during lockdown, but despite that knowledge some still said they find it hard to talk to someone when they are struggling.
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"It could be just an hour's conversation… it could just be that tiny thing that makes you think 'okay I feel so much better about that'". . Steve became a Samaritans volunteer following the death of his stepson. He speaks about overcoming a tough time for our #RealPeopleRealStories campaign, launching today. Read his full story (link in bio)
Tom found lockdown was a good time to discuss mental health because other conversation topics, like what kinds of activities people had been up to, largely dried up.
The 29-year-old, who works for Samaritans, explained:
Calls or video calls would inevitably sizzle out and this allowed for a little more organic conversation about mental health. I’ve been really fortunate to feel less alone in my anxiety especially.
Conversation has more naturally turned to wellbeing, but I do feel that I am in the minority and the strain of this pandemic has caused more people to go into their shell than not.
Of course, not everyone will feel like running 262 miles in a month to help tackle mental health issues, so Tom pointed out that anxiety ‘is going to be prevalent after such a traumatic world event, so if we can all accept that and use it as common ground to come together’. He added: ‘I think it’s a chance for everyone to work through a new reality in a more useful way.’
Further discussing the impacts of the virus and how he feels now restrictions are beginning to ease, Tom said:
I really don’t like the idea that I could be a threat to others because of this virus, which makes me feel anxious.
Going from being told people (and myself) are a threat, to being back in crowded situations has my mind in a spin. I know that it takes me a little longer to adjust to being around lots of people, so I’m just starting to introduce gradual and small exposures to these situations
It’s likely that I’ll have a few panic attacks as things get back to ‘normal’, so it’s important that I talk about these worries and speak up when I feel one coming on. The more people know and the more I accept that panic attacks can happen and I can come back from them, the less scary they are.
Tom encouraged everyone to open up as much as they can about any struggles they might be having, saying that getting them out into the open helps prevent them from piling up.
He noted his own experience with keeping things bottled up had led him to use drugs, which in turn contributed to behaviour that eventually broke relationships with loved ones. He felt it was easier to accept he was alone than to accept help, but he later found that talking through problems ‘was much tougher than “manning up” and putting on a front’.
Talk it through and look for help. You’d be surprised by how many people are willing to listen in everyday life. But if you feel you need anything more, then reach out to your GP or to Samaritans who are trained to be able to help. You got this, keep on keeping on!
Just because your mental health is unique to you doesn’t mean you can’t share it with others. There’s always someone willing to listen, whether it be a friend, family member, colleague, or a friendly ear on the other end of a helpline.
Tom Nevill is part of Samaritans’ Real People, Real Stories, a campaign that sees men share their stories of how they have overcome difficult times, to inspire and encourage others to reach out for help. Anyone can talk to Samaritans for free on 116 123 or visit samaritans.org for online self-help tools and information.
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