Mental well-being and the pandemic

| 17th April 2020
A new report published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal has warned of an expected rise in symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress.

Yet the virus is hard for everybody.

A lot of time to ourselves at home has been created for the millions who have lost jobs or have been furloughed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

This unfamiliar spaciousness and slower pace of life can be a wonderful thing, a welcome opportunity to create, meditate, garden, work on the house.

For many, however, these empty days may be slightly terrifying. We are not used to spending time alone or solely in the company of our households.


We often feel uncomfortable when left sitting with our own minds, instead seeking distractions to fill the days, creating busy work and social schedules and reverting to our phones to fill the lulls.

It can be a really scary thing, to be without distractions - particularly under the enforced social-distancing measures.

The pandemic has created a strange paradox for those now not working… days are unusually spacious and empty, yet we are simultaneously shut-in, potentially feeling claustrophobic.

complete loss of routine or sudden big changes - like having to work from home - can shake us up, make us feel listless and uneasy.  

This is particularly the case for people with existing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD).


Aside from the isolation, the fear and uncertainty surrounding a highly contagious, novel virus spreading on an international scale has inevitably proven to be triggering for certain mental health conditions.

As somebody with mild OCD and hypochondria, I understand the vulnerability and disquiet that COVID-19 can instil.

Similarly, in an era where we endeavour to plan our lives down to the most minute detail, this abrupt and unprecedented ‘pause’ on life as we know it, with huge concomitant societal changes, can trigger a feeling of losing control over our futures.  

A new report published this week in the Lancet Psychiatry journal has warned of an expected ‘rise in symptoms of anxiety and coping responses to stress during these extraordinary circumstances’.

The report reveals the results of two online surveys organised by MO: Transforming Mental Health and the Academy of Medical Sciences conducted in the first week of lockdown, with general public and people with mental health conditions in the UK.


Participants’ key concerns were increased isolation and loneliness, along with changes in access to support services during the pandemic.

The authors of the report - experts in mental health sciences across the globe - have called for the urgent and continuous collection of data on the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a plethora of evidence now to support what is intrinsic and deeply-felt by many: that time spent outdoors in nature is invaluable for our sense of well-being.

Under lockdown measures, time outdoors has been strictly curtailed. This is particularly heart-breaking at such a warm time of year when everything is in bloom.  

Sharp class and geographical distinctions have been exposed: people with spacious houses and beautiful gardens will experience a wholly different lockdown to those living in high rise flats with no outdoor space.  

Human rights

There are concerns that heightened anxiety and depression under lockdown conditions may result in people seeking problematic coping mechanisms such as alcoholism, which coincides with an existing body of evidence that public alcohol consumption tends to increase under psychological distress.

Similarly, a loss of routine can result in a loss of motivation, with many of us likely spending more time in bed.  

Mental health conditions often coincide with drug use amongst society’s most vulnerable population. This is particularly worrying for people who rely on drug and alcohol support services.

Most face-to-face appointments at harm reduction centres across the UK have had to be cut to a minimum. These provide really important, regular chances for service users to check-in and practice self-care.

Harm Reduction International has released a statement calling for "more proactive and coordinated action… to protect the health and human rights of people who use drugs in light of the COVID-19" pandemic.


The same goes for anybody who regularly attends group work, counselling and therapy sessions.

Online and over-the-phone consultations are an amazing use of communications technology, and testament to the adaptability and resilience of society, but these undeniably cannot provide the same level of human interaction as in-person appointments.

The pandemic is producing compounds effects on the most vulnerable in society and has exposed how multifaceted social issues are entirely interlinked– mental health conditions, job instability, drug and alcohol dependency, loneliness, and poor housing.

Yet the virus is hard for everybody.

Feeling lost, overwhelmed, anxious and lonely is expected. The media have taken an approach of conjuring wartime imagery and reporting daily on the sky-rocketing death toll. COVID-19 has become all-encompassing.

It is integral that we share with each-other the small things that are helping us to get through these strange and alienating days - from creative arts to taking online courses, listening to the radio, exercising regularly and staying in touch with our friends and family.

Mind, along with many other mental health organisations, has released multiple resources and advice for coping with mental health conditions whilst staying at home.

This Author 

Tesni Clare is an environmental journalist based in Bristol.

Image: Kmtextor