A coronavirus is part of a family of viruses that usually only infect animals. Some of these however, can cross over to infect humans as well. The new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is currently having an impact on people worldwide. Originating in China in late 2019, it rapidly spread to other countries throughout early 2020. For the latest information on COVID-19, please visit the following website: UK government – Coronavirus.
Mental health may be impacted in a variety of different ways as a direct and indirect result of COVID-19. Some people may experience a rise in their stress or anxiety levels. This may be in part due to worrying about catching the virus, financial worries, the constant updates in the news and not knowing when the pandemic will end, amongst other things.
As a consequence of COVID-19, the vast majority of people have had to adjust to dramatic changes in circumstances and daily life routines. Whilst many people can continue a certain amount of online socialising or communicating with neighbours, it is still a major change to the normal levels of interaction. This can lead to people feeling lonely or isolated, which can affect their mood and have a negative impact on their mental health.
As an indirect result, employment has been affected across the country, in a variety of different ways. Some people have lost jobs, events have been cancelled and most shops have experienced closures. The government has advised on ways of helping businesses (including people who are self-employed) and supporting people who are out of work financially during this time. Please see ‘The potential impact on mental health from psychosocial factors’ section below, for more information on the support available. For those that are able to work remotely, routines have changed, with some people juggling home schooling and childcare.
Key workers may face slightly different challenges, including a possible increase in workload and worrying about the increased risk of being infected or infecting others. The change of lifestyle may affect some people’s mental health more than others. If you are used to being very sociable and going out regularly, changing your routine to being mainly indoors may feel very strange. Even for those that are less sociable, it can be quite an adjustment. Understandably, some people can fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with increased stress, anxiety or boredom, including drinking or eating more than usual, spending longer periods of time scrolling through the news or social media or over or under-exercising.
If you are trying to access mental health support services, there may be a few changes. Some may have closed temporarily, be providing a reduced service, changed their referral process or there may be a longer wait time than usual. Some now provide online support groups and telephone services. ‘Every Mind Matters’ is an NHS run website which offers advice and practical tips to look after your mental health: Every Mind Matters.
It is well known that stress can aggravate existing mental health conditions. Below are some conditions that may be affected in more specific ways due to the direct or indirect impact of COVID-19:
Generalised anxiety disorder: For some people, when things feel out of control or their routine changes, their anxiety levels can increase.
Social anxiety disorder: This condition can be affected by the switch to online communication. For example, some people find virtual meetings challenging as they can trigger social anxiety symptoms.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Certain symptoms of OCD may be aggravated during this time, especially hand washing/sanitising, cleaning, a preoccupation with germs and obsessively checking for new information on the pandemic.
Low mood and depression: Some people may experience a worsening in mood during this time, in particular, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest or a lack of motivation.
Insomnia: Stress and anxiety are known to directly impact the quality of sleep, coupled with the possibility of disrupted routines.
Alcohol or substance use: For some people, drinking or substance use is a way of ‘coping’ with life. These coping mechanisms may be used more during periods of increased stress, anxiety or boredom.
Disordered eating: Symptoms of disordered eating may be aggravated due to increased stress and anxiety, changes to routines, as well as the increased attention on food (stockpiling) and exercise during this period.
If you are already receiving psychological therapy or support for your mental health condition, you may have experienced a change in how the service is run. Unfortunately, some support groups and services have had to temporarily shut down or move to an online platform. This may cause additional temporary stress. There are some helpful tips (please see below) to look after your mental health during this time.
As a result of COVID-19, there has been a reported rise in psychosocial factors impacting mental health. ‘Psychosocial factors’ are social circumstances or stressors that have an impact on someone’s mental health. These social circumstances or stressors can include family or relationship problems, divorce, abuse, debt, homelessness and unemployment.
Below is a list of services who offer further information, advice and support about various psychosocial factors:
UK government – Coronavirus
This website contains the latest news, updates and information about COVID-19. It includes helpful advice about employment and financial support, school closures, education and childcare, businesses and other organisations and information for healthcare workers and carers.
An independent charity dedicated to providing free debt advice by phone and online to people across the UK.
Carers UK provides advice, information and support to carers across the UK.
A network of charities offering free, confidential advice on a variety of topics including benefits, work, debt, money, housing, family, law and courts and health
Crisis is a national charity who helps if you are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Relationship support for everyone. The UK's largest provider of relationship support, helping people of all ages, backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities to strengthen their relationships.
National Domestic Abuse Helpline – women
The freephone, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
The Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge, is a national service for women experiencing domestic violence, their family, friends, colleagues and others calling on their behalf. The Helpline is staffed 24 hours a day by fully trained female helpline support workers and volunteers. All calls are completely confidential.
Domestic abuse – Men’s Advice Line
Freephone 0808 8010327, opening times: Monday and Wednesday: 9:00–20:00, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 9:00–17:00
Men’s Advice Line is a team of friendly Advisors who will listen and offer non-judgmental support, practical advice and information.
There are lots of things that can be done to improve mental health and general wellbeing during this uncertain time, some of which are detailed below. It is important to realise when self-help is not enough or appropriate. If you are struggling with your mental health and/or have been recommended medication, psychological therapy or a combination of both by your healthcare professional, self-help alone is unlikely to be enough. However, it can run alongside your recommended treatment plan.
There are many circumstances in which self-help is a good idea. These include:
For some individuals, stress, sleep, low mood and anxiety can be effectively managed by self-help strategies alone.
When the usual mental health support systems or services are temporarily unavailable, or there are long waiting times.
Staying well when in recovery or between episodes.
To run alongside your recommended treatment plan to help aid recovery.
It’s also important to note that whilst these options (either on their own or when used alongside recommended treatment) have shown to be effective for some people, they may not suit everyone. Avoid pushing yourself too hard if you are going through a period of feeling particularly unwell.
Routine: Keeping to a routine can be very helpful when going through periods of uncertainty. It may be that your usual routine has changed, so a new one needs to be made. A helpful routine could include getting up and going to bed at a similar time during the week (maybe with an exception at the weekend), eating at your usual times and scheduling in exercise. If you are working from home, it can be a good idea to continue dressing in your usual work clothes, during work hours. This helps to separate work and home life.
Don’t be too hard on yourself: There can be a tendency to want to, or feel pressured to, improve yourself in some way during this time. There are plenty of adverts for online courses to learn something new or start a new exercise regime. Or a tendency to feel like you have to have a perfectly tidy house or be the perfect home-schooling parent. It can be helpful to lower your expectations, give yourself a break and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve ‘perfection’!
Limit news and social media mentioning COVID-19: It can be a good idea to limit the amount of time you spend reading, watching or listening to the news or social media reports on COVID-19. Constantly thinking about the pandemic may cause you to feel more stressed or anxious. There can also be the added stress of coming across ‘fake news’, so it is a good idea to get information regarding COVID-19 from sources such as UK Government – Coronavirus and NHS NHS Covid-19.
Pick out the good: It’s very easy and can be natural for us to focus on the negatives during this time, particularly with the ongoing news updates. It can be a productive exercise to actively pick out and remind ourselves of the positive things as well, to get more of a balance, e.g., a neighbour checking in on us, completing 10 minutes of exercise or reading a good book.
Accepting your feelings about the situation: It can be helpful to accept that the current situation is out of your control and you can’t change it. If you feel yourself getting worried about it, try and accept these worrying feelings, rather than pushing them away.
|Type of exercise||Exercise effects|
|Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming, dancing and walking|
|Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming, dancing and walking||
|Resistance exercise, such as weightlifting|
|Resistance exercise, such as weightlifting||
|Type of diet||Diet effects|
|‘Ultra-processed foods’ (soft drinks, fried foods, crisps, sweets and packaged cakes and biscuits)|
|‘Ultra-processed foods’ (soft drinks, fried foods, crisps, sweets and packaged cakes and biscuits)||
|Healthy, balanced diet (high in vegetables and fruit, fish and wholegrains)|
|Healthy, balanced diet (high in vegetables and fruit, fish and wholegrains)||
|Steer clear of recreational drugs and too much alcohol|
|Recreational drugs or alcohol||Effects|
|Good sleep habits|
|Good sleep habits||
|Type of self-help||Effects|
|Reaching out and being kind to others|
|Reaching out and being kind to others||
|Green and blue spaces and natural daylight|
|Green and blue spaces and natural daylight||
|Keep learning (if you feel like it)||
|Mindfulness and meditation|
|Mindfulness and meditation||