There has been an overwhelming amount of kindness in the world these last couple of months. One million volunteers signed up to assist the most vulnerable; NHS doctors and nurses are connecting very ill patients with their loved ones on video calls; children draw rainbows on pavements to lift spirits; people buy shopping for their elderly neighbours.
Kindness is the theme for this Mental Health Awareness Week. We’re living through times which are incredibly difficult for our mental health. We are naturally social animals, so it’s far from strange that we might be struggling through this period of isolation. People are under severe financial pressure, domestic abuse has soared, relationships are strained, there is a distinct lack of routine, hardly any sense of normality, and, devastatingly, millions are grieving. And that’s on top of the fear of contracting a deadly virus.
A recent survey found that a third of those with mental illnesses hadn’t attended their usual appointments, due to worries about burdening the NHS. Worryingly, the lockdown is also causing serious mental illness in first-time patients, adults and children alike.
The mental health crisis at the end of all this could be just as severe as the current health disaster. Last week, the UN warned that the pandemic will likely lead to an “upsurge” in the number and severity of mental illnesses. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, too, has warned that services could be overwhelmed by “a tsunami of mental illness”. Charities have already been inundated with huge numbers of calls from people struggling with their mental health.
Fortunately, the stigma around mental health is slowly being eroded. Just yesterday, swimmer Michael Phelps spoke out, saying that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on his mental health: “my emotions are all over the place”.
The more that mental health is discussed as a normal matter by the press, TV programmes and on social media, the less stigmatised it will be, and the more likely people will be to discuss their feelings.
Whether it be going for a run, doing some yoga, writing cards to friends and family, lighting a candle before bedtime, turning off your phone for the weekend, limiting your daily news intake, or rereading your favourite book, there are numerous ways to improve your mental health, even just in the short term.
And if we maintain the current abundance of kindness past lockdown, we’ll be able to tackle the oncoming mental health crisis as we have this one – together. Because kindness really is key.