2022: Reset, reboot, revive!
19 Jan 2022
Time to recover our mental health
Figures released on 19 January 2022 reveal that the number of people being treated for anxiety and depression in the UK is now as high as it was twelve months ago. No Christmas lockdown to blame this time, but, despite lots of fighting talk about learning to live with the virus, analysis of individual cases points overwhelmingly towards fear of Covid-19 as the cause of the continuing surge in mental disorders. For all the scientific advances, and the fact that the current strain is clearly less virulent than its predecessors, fear of contracting Covid and concerns about the social and economic consequences of a prolonged state of emergency continue to disturb many people’s thinking.
Rewind 12 months, and we thought we could see light at the end of the tunnel. Feelings of terror and helplessness were being replaced by vaccine fuelled optimism and a growing expectation of a return to a new, improved normality, with lessons learned during 2020 being turned massively to advantage. Sadly, the 2021 ‘Brave New World’ turned out to be a mirage. Advances on the medical front coincided with the emergence of fresh strains of the virus, and optimism gave way to resigned repetition of the mantra that the only certainty appears to be uncertainty. A year later we are counting the costs, with some UK health authorities reporting a doubling in mental health referrals in adults.
At a national level, the UK government is ‘strapped for cash’, having spent billions on systems that don’t work, faulty equipment from cowboy suppliers and a succession of initiatives apparently driven by political expediency rather than scientific evidence. That said, in recognition of the mental health crisis, the government did announce in March 2021 that it would invest £500 million in a mental health recovery plan. They stated where the money would be spent, but gave no detail on objectives or measures of success. The statistics released on 19 January 2022 suggest that the results are not encouraging – and mental health professionals remain sceptical of the government’s commitment to elevate the status of mental health and social care issues within the NHS.
In the corporate world, our clients are telling us – almost without exception – that their people are experiencing feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression – and fear. This inevitably affects individual motivation and morale. And leaders worry about what the ongoing crisis is doing to people – now and in the longer term.
So there is an urgent need for us – as organisations, families and individuals – to take matters into our own hands. It may seem trite to say that we must help each other. And it may not be sensible to expect an untrained person to have the impact of a mental health professional. But an obvious and immediately available way of helping to mitigate the huge psychological crisis is to get individuals talking. People need to use their friendships and develop informal support networks, so they can: share experiences; admit to how they are feeling; compare the effectiveness of different coping mechanisms; rebut the damaging belief that they are uniquely anxious or stressed; and come to realise that the causes of their unhappiness can be identified and confronted.
We need to be mindful of colleagues and look out for them. This has, of course, been all the more difficult in the virtual world, but as restrictions start to lift, we must redouble our efforts, check in on people and take the bold move of actually asking the questions and offering the support when things seem not quite right.
And we also need to cut ourselves more slack. As researchers and writers on the subject of resilience for almost 15 years, we have some simple tips:
Reframe your thinking: if you are perpetually dogged by negative thoughts, try to be disciplined and turn them around into something positive. If you want to become more optimistic, check out the work of Martin Seligman.
Visualise positive outcomes: allied to this, when faced with problems, you are more likely to be able to find a way forward if you can imagine what a positive outcome might be. And if you can’t see it, ask someone you think might be able to.
Take control where you can: a feeling of helplessness will only add to your troubles. And whilst we can’t control everything, we can often influence. So try to focus on small things that you can do.
Breathe deeply: there is no doubt that deep breathing enhances state of mind and wellbeing. There are countless videos on YouTube which show you how to do just that. So why not give one of them a try?
Be active: get up, get out, move around! Physical activity promotes wellbeing.
Take action: over and above this, though, you will help your state of mind immensely if you do something, no matter how small to start addressing the problems you feel you are facing.
Talk to others: at your lowest ebb, it can be really hard to think about sharing your feelings. But truly resilient people don’t go it alone. So find someone to talk to – a friend, a family member, a colleague, a helpline – whoever it is, they can help.
Written by Jane Clarke & Dr John Nicholson