It’s mental health awareness week this week and what a time to be talking about it too!

Never has mental health mattered as much as it does right now. A taboo topic for decades, often brushed under the carpet in times gone by, now is the one thing we all have in common. This pandemic has brought much to the surface but most of all it has highlighted that each and every one of us is as vulnerable as the next as we have locked ourselves away in fear of contracting this deadly virus. It’s shown us that nobody is exempt and coming to terms with this reality has caused anxiety for all.

Mental illness is one of the major public health challenges in Scotland. It is estimated that one in three people are affected by mental illness in any one year. In this pandemic, however, I’m confident this figure will be much higher and I believe we will continue to see the aftermath of this for years to come as we process what we have all gone through. Loneliness, isolation, financial insecurities, unemployment and health anxieties are just some of the common causes of deteriorating mental health.

Other triggers are bereavement after the loss of a loved one or even the loss of a relationship. Each of these factors, on their own, have the potential to negatively impact one’s mental health but right now, the world is experiencing all of these in unison. Without any warning, we have been forced into isolation for two months and counting; Some with their families but many alone. It has been such a trying time. The elderly and frail, who are already at a higher risk for poor mental health, have been forced into strict isolation, almost locked away, where they are facing greater loneliness than ever. Many have been furloughed and have lost their livelihoods whilst others have been facing burnout as they have been trying to upskill and work from new surroundings, often with dependents too.

My heart has broken from the countless stories I’ve heard of people losing their loved ones due to COVID-19 but haven’t been able to say their goodbyes or attend the funerals. A patient of mine, who was worried about burdening the NHS, took their own life without seeking help. This pain will live with us forever. Post-traumatic stress disorder will be a huge issue for this cohort of people as we emerge out the other end. Then there is the harrowing issue of domestic abuse. The rates at which this has risen sends chills down our spines especially as victims have been forced to isolate themselves with their perpetrators during these “unprecedented” times.

This isn’t an individual problem, it’s a societal issue and we must all be prepared to be part of the solution moving forward. I am sorry to write such a dark piece but I think it is important to give this topic as much air time as possible. I also feel sad writing all of this but whilst it’s been lovely seeing people clapping and cheering, learning new skills or keeping busy, it’s important to say that not everyone is able to participate in this.

It is also vital to acknowledge that it is ok to not be ok and admit that all of us, on some level, are struggling. Signs and symptoms of depression include feeling low in energy, tired all the time, having no motivation or experiencing feelings of hopelessness.

Appetite may change to not having one or overeating to combat emotions. Often alcohol and drugs can become medicinal; this is a problem that needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand. Reach out to your GP, a trusted friend or relative or the many charities who offer confidential support and advice.

It is essential that anyone who is reading this and feels their mental health may be suffering, please reach out. If you know someone else who is enduring a difficult situation, offer them support and encourage them to speak up. Physically we may be forced into isolation but let’s not allow people to feel alone in their minds.