Our North of England network’s response to
Mental Health Awareness Week
18 – 24 May 2020
The pandemic has presented us all with new challenges that until recently seemed to belong to the remit of movies. Periods of rapid change require rapid adjustment, and incorporating these changes into our lives at such short notice can take its toll on our mental health.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (18–24 May), we invited people from across the IP community to share their reflections on how they’ve managed to adjust to new situations recently, or to simply reflect on the “new normal”.
Thank you to everyone who has provided submissions. We were struck by the openness and feeling with which people wrote, and the common threads of resilience, kindness and hope. By sharing in your own humanity and being open about your experiences, you have helped others in this difficult time.
It’s not too late to contribute! Undoubtedly some of the comments below will inspire you to share your own experiences. Details on how to do this can be found at the end of this post. You can also join in the conversations in our new LinkedIn group.
IP Inclusive North of England network
A focal point of Mental Health Awareness Week has been “kindness” and what it means to be “kind”. A contributor comments on the sense of local community that has developed around Thursday’s “Clap for Carers”, and the loan of a particularly sentimental item. They write:
Clap for Carers on a Thursday has become a highlight in our home. We live on a cul-de-sac and lots of people come out to clap at a social distance. A neighbour we didn’t really know very well noticed how much my children have been enjoying making lots of noise each week and left us a message and a bell (freshly washed!) for them to ring. He said the bell had belonged to his father in the Air Raid Precautions unit during WWII and he would be pleased for my children to ring it each Thursday during lockdown. We had a look into the history of the ARP bells and found a similar one in the Imperial War Museum online – so that was a good history lesson! This small act of kindness from a relative stranger really moved me.
Another contributor ponders a well-known literary and screen figure which springs to mind in these times of social distancing, and reflects on how bereavement is affecting them during an extremely difficult time. They write:
Bridget Jones comes to mind and no not a sexually frustrated female, but a single person living alone. She can no longer socialise outside or at work. Whilst her friends moan that they are juggling home schooling kids, dealing with the house as well as working from home, they at least have people around them in their lockdown situation. What does Bridget have but just loneliness in her little flat? Sometimes the only time Bridget may open her mouth is to brush her teeth or eat, and of course downing the odd glass of wine.
My name is not Bridget, but I’m a sole female who lost her husband of 43 years nearly a year ago. Yes, losing my husband was hard but isolation in lockdown has been extremely tough. Work has been my salvation and given me some sense of “normality” in my life. Interacting with colleagues has been a life-line, but you still find yourself saying you’re ok when they enquire how you are. Taking each day at a time is good. Weekends can be more lonely, so decorating/gardening or doing something to fill these days. Life is like a surf-board: sometimes you hit little waves (of emotion) and other times it is big waves, but emotion is what makes us human, so it’s ok to feel the way you do. Just remember there are others like you in similar situations and we will get through this.
Another contributor reflects on the benefits of maintaining structure in the week, by substituting alternative activities which mirror what you might otherwise be doing in a COVID-19 free world. They write:
I have worked from home for around 15 years during my career so that in itself is not new. What is – and what I have found difficult – is the lack of freedom go out when/where/with whom I want in order to keep a varied work-life balance. I have tried where possible to replicate previous activities/social events and their timings via videocon (or similar). So, my Tuesday choir practice with pub after is now my Tuesday Zoom call with a group of singers plus wine; my Wednesday singing practice is now with Gareth Malone on YouTube; my weekend trip to a concert/theatre is now watching one of the excellent streamings from major arts establishments; various catches-up with individual friends are now via WhatsApp, and a regular Zoom with my ex-uni group. Where it’s not possible to mimic previous activities, I try to substitute something similar – or different: cooking more and sharing recipes (instead of meals) with friends, for example; and engaging in online Scrabble and quizzes. Today was another first: becoming bored with the locality, I replaced the pre-Covid bus with a Boris Bike to get me further, and went to Hyde Park for the first time in months.
Another contributor shares their sense of frustration at the situation, and the inability to access their usual support networks due to lockdown. They write:
Juggling the normal workload with taking care of two preschoolers is proving very hard and my level of patience has severely decreased. I am fortunate to have a garden to spend time outdoors, but I really miss the social contact with people outside my household and cycling. I really look forward to being able to meet my friends alone for a bit to re-charge my batteries and find balance. Meditation and yoga are helping me through this period, and I try to practise daily and I try (not always succeeding) to go somewhere alone and breathe for 10 minutes when I notice I just want to scream to the kids or my partner. I am working on accepting the new situation as it comes and try not to make plans for the future to avoid frustration.
Another contributor reflects on the challenges arising from childcare whilst attempting to be productive at work. They write:
I am fortunate to have been in lockdown with my immediate family – children aged 11 and 9 and my husband. Overall, I would say it has been really challenging to get things done with the same level of consistent focus. I have had to get used to many more interruptions and using shorter burst of concentration. A 9-year-old can concentrate for one unit of recordable time, but not two! At some moments I have just had to down tools and get alongside my kids when I see they are struggling emotionally or physically fighting. At other times I have just had to let them get on with it. But we have realised we all get on pretty well and are much better at saying sorry – especially the adults. And thank goodness you can switch the video setting off on a call when you need to!
Another contributor reflects on how the normal boundaries of work and home have been thrown out, and how young family members struggle to understand that “working from home” does not correspond to being “at home”. They write:
I have worked from home one day per week for several years so not much adjustment was required on a practical level to fully work from home in lockdown. What I have found more difficult than expected is rapidly switching between my roles as worker and parent. I have always kept my work and home lives very separate from one another and I used to use the time on my commute home to switch off “work mode” and get back into “parent mode” ready to see my family when I got in. Of course it is now impossible to keep these two roles separate. Every day my youngest asks me “are you working today mum?” and finds it hard to understand how I can be in the house all day but not able to spend as much time with him as he would like. More parental guilt ensues, as I am sure most working parents can identify with!
Another contributor contemplates the importance of being mindful of others’ circumstances during lockdown, and their hope that we will all learn from these experiences to become more accommodating of individuals. They write:
I’ve been very lucky. Because of where and how I live, the ages of my children, and the fact that I’d already been working from home for quite some time, I haven’t had too many practical problems to cope with during lockdown. OK, so the IT side has sometimes been tricky; I have no IT support so if there are problems, or if there’s new technology to get to grips with, I’m on my own. But even that has been a useful learning experience.
From a mental health perspective, I’ve also been lucky. I suffer from anxiety, particularly in busy social situations and when travelling, and from frequent bouts of depression. I’m the type of person who needs quiet time to recharge the batteries. So lockdown is actually *less* stressful for people like me.
But the key thing I’ve learned from this period is to give much, much more thought to the circumstances that other people are working in, the challenges they’re facing, how and when and where they might be having to work, how they’ll need to communicate, what support they’ll need. It was never good to make assumptions, because people are so different, but the lockdown has made that even more important. Suddenly, there is no “normal”. So now, whenever you sit down to write to or talk to someone, you need to spend that bit more time beforehand thinking about what they’re bringing to the interaction and what they need from it.
I’ve realised that it’s more important than ever to begin by *asking* how people are, and establishing some context before requesting or instructing or exchanging. And having asked, we need to accommodate – without judgement, without comparison – their needs as an individual. I think we’re all getting better at this. What I’m hoping is that these skills will stay with us after the lockdown, so that we’ll emerge as more empathetic and inclusive professionals.
Another contributor comments on how despite events being cancelled, the lockdown has presented an unusual opportunity to really connect with friends and family. They write:
Cancellation of the EQEs was a tough pill to swallow – a mere 10 or so days before we were due to sit the examinations. All the hours spent locked away working over the previous five or so months melted into insignificance. The brain groaned on the realisation that the repetitive strain injury it had endured was simply a warm up for the real thing … whenever that might be.
As it turned out, March 2020 was the month of cancellations for our household – our wedding, honeymoon etc all went out the window. We’d attended wedding after wedding for the last few years, and it just seemed so typical that we chose 2020 – year of the first global pandemic in a century – to get married.
However, amongst all the madness the kindness and support of our friends and family really shone through. One friend even sent us a box of wine to celebrate our un-wedding! It’s been great talking so much to friends over WhatsApp and Zoom, when under normal circumstances we might only see them two or three times a year due to living in different areas of the country. Ironically, the lockdown has brought us closer to our friends than we probably have been for many years. I hope that this informal, more creative and more spontaneous way of communicating continues after all of this blows over!
Would you also like to contribute to Mental Health Awareness Week by providing your own submission? We will continue to post submissions throughout the week. Alternatively, feel free to leave a comment below, or to start or join a conversation in our LinkedIn group.
If you would like to participate, please email [email protected] with approximately 100-200 words providing your comments on (i) your new situation (in a personal or professional capacity, or both), (ii) if you feel you have been able to address any issues arising from that situation, and (iii) if so what you have done to move yourself towards a positive space.
All submissions will be posted online anonymously, so please try to avoid using any personally identifiable information in your submissions.