Amidst Boris Johnson’s announcement of yet another lockdown, the claims made by a recent Guardian article, that Coronavirus will pose the ‘greatest threat to mental health’ since the second world war’, will ring true for many. Whilst the gradual rollout of vaccines across the UK seem to symbolise that there is some sort of end in sight, the extent of the impact of Covid-19, both on physical and mental health, is yet to be realised.
A survey run by the Office for National Statistics found that 69% of adults are ‘very or somewhat worried’ about the effects of Coronavirus on their lives, and a similar pattern is found across all age groups; from the young to the old, mental wellbeing has been severely impacted.
I only have to cast my mind back to the evening on which the first lockdown was announced to see the impact that Coronavirus is having on children. I have a vivid memory of hearing my little brother cry during the night, and going in to find him absolutely inconsolable, unable to sleep and unable to stop crying. He was ten years old at the time, and in his last year of primary school, something which should have been an exciting and memorable time. Yet, when he came home from school to find us all sat rapt, watching as Boris Johnson announced the lockdown, his world came crashing down around him. On the news were constant updates of death tolls, videos of mass-graves in New York, and the alien images of empty streets and masked-up adults. The world had changed overnight, and for a kid that was understandably a lot to handle; why couldn’t he see his friends? Would our mum (a nurse) catch it and die? Was this how the world would end?
We stopped watching the news around him after that, not wanting the last few years of his childhood innocence to be tainted by death and fear more than it already was. But I’m worried that simply not watching the news wasn’t enough. Murmurs of ever-higher death-counts continued among us (and still do). He had his eleventh birthday at home, missed his school residential trip, and wasn’t able to say one final goodbye to his primary school friends. Navigating the world currently is something I, a nineteen-year-old, is desperately struggling with; I don’t even want to imagine what it must be like for a child. Ask anyone around you, and I’m sure you’ll find many similar stories.
The impact on university students, as many will know, has also been massive, with students not even mentioned in the latest televised announcement by Boris Johnson, despite primary, secondary, and college-age students being referred to. In May 2020, after the first lockdown, there was problems in Oxford with obtaining Sertraline, a common anti-depressant. This continued into December 2020, with one student highlighting the issue, which seemed to indicate a mental health ‘epidemic’ amongst students. If so many students are on anti-depressants (something which isn’t inherently bad, and has been a positively life-changing decision for me personally), surely there is a crisis of mental health going on, spurred by the uncertainty faced by students in particular. The combination of isolation, anxiety, fear, economic hardship, and the actual physical effects of the virus itself, have been disastrous for many, and the effects of Covid-19 on mental health have yet to be determined.
For now, we can only try to prevent and mitigate declining mental health among our population. I think that, as we tried to do with my younger brother, taking time away from the relentless barrage of news and reports of rising death and infection rates, is always beneficial; finding time to exercise and be mindful about the small parts of your day which you can control can bring back some vague sense of normality, however horrible it is at the moment. Let’s just not have a repeat of the banana bread/Tiger King/dodgy home haircuts which characterised the first lockdown, ok?