By Dr Justin Basquille
Justin Basquille is a Consultant Psychiatrist to the Royal Brompton Hospital. He specialises in the psychiatric problems of adulthood and is well-known and respected in his area of expertise. How are we coping emotionally? Following the Covid-19 Lockdown in March and with the impending Lockdown 2 he gives some valid opinions on the effects and restrictions on the mind with some frank and useful tips.
For some, the pandemic has been something of a godsend, opening up new ways of living. People have been able to move beyond the daily grind and find new ways of working and socialising. Who could possibly have imagined just some months ago the enormous and quite sudden changes to the daily lives of millions around the world?
Although these changes have caused mayhem for many, others have seen them as an unexpected, if somewhat mixed, blessing. People have very quickly got used to their new liberty to organise their days in new ways, no longer shackled to Victorian modes of working. Why be an office slave, toiling away in an uncomfortable environment, when you can do so much work, so much more comfortably from home? This works of course only if home is a better environment than the office. It is not for everyone of course. Noisy kids, bolshy partners, demanding dependents, can quickly strain the patience of Job. But work, even in an unfavourable setting, does tend to keep one sane.
Sanity cannot be taken for granted. The pressures of the lockdown have been too much for many. People have been increasingly breaking down, losing the plot and decompensating emotionally, as the confinements and restrictions continue.
In our practice, we are seeing people from all professional walks of life finding themselves unable to cope any longer. They need help but do not always know what to do or how to get it. Anxiety and low-level depression gnaw away at them. Panic attacks, OCD, eating disorders and pre-existing issues which otherwise would not have risen to the surface, are revealed or exacerbated. Occasionally it gets much worse, with severe emotional reactions and even psychosis.
People distract themselves with behaviour that can rapidly turn bad; comfort-eating, binge-drinking and drug use, compulsive online shopping and online gambling. All of these just add to the burden of misery. People fall prey to literally outlandish conspiracy theories which seem to have lately taken on a new life of their own. In the absence of clear messages from Government or those generally in authority, mad ideas rush in to fill the void. These theories, given added credence by glitzy, if glib, online videos, signal a deeper societal anxiety and unease and are an attempt to control unknown forces that are beyond our ability to counter. There has been a collapse in confidence in the state, in experts and in those supposedly in the know. If you can pick a selection of facts (half – facts will do), line them up in a spurious sequence and compose a compelling narrative from them, ignoring any counterarguments or facts, then you’re on to a social media winner. It can be hard to resist the lure of alien illuminati and the machinations of famous billionaires who seem to be out to dominate the rest of us. The further down that road you go, the more out of touch with reality one becomes. In my view that way lies madness.
What then for those who just want to get better, to get stronger and to cope with all this lockdown stress? What can be done if you are suffering from anxiety, panic, palpitations, shortness of breath, feeling sick, headachy, exhausted, pessimistic and hopeless? If insomnia, loss of appetite, bowel disturbance or loss of libido affect you? What can you do if life seems to have lost its allure, if you can no longer see a future, feel any pleasure, or worse?
In situations like that, don’t let things drift. Seek help. The best way to do that is to speak to your GP, who can assess the situation and advise on the best course of action. If there are physical issues, they can be investigated and dealt with. If medication is needed then the GP can prescribe that or seek the help of a psychiatrist if need be. Anyone can refer themselves or someone else (with their consent) to the NHS locality mental health services for free psychotherapy. Anyone can refer themselves for private psychotherapy through any of a multitude of approved and regulated services.
But no matter what the nature of the problem or the proposed investigations or treatment, do not forget the basics. Rest and relaxation, time out from stressful activities, proper hydration and nutrition and regular exercise are vital. Meditation, mindfulness, religious observance and other practices which calm body and soul are very helpful. Talking therapy helps organise your thoughts, and is helpful even if you do not feel you have anything much to talk about. You may not even feel you are making progress but the very fact that you are disciplining yourself in trying to clarify your thoughts is itself helpful.
We are living through an unprecedented experience, not seen in almost any of our lifetimes. We do not know how long this will last, how it will affect us personally, our families and friends or how it will affect the wider society. Who knows what the outcome will be? We cannot individually control that. But what we can influence is our own personal psychological and physical well-being. Look after yourself and look after others. Do what you can and do not worry about what cannot be done. There is always someone there to help.
Dr Basquille also runs a private clinic and can be contacted for further information at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some useful contacts:
A comprehensive list can be found on the NHS Urgent Support Mental Health Website
Samaritans Tel 116 123 helpline 24 hour,
Text “SHOUT” to 85258