Coping with Covid-19 by Chloe Combi, part two: Mental health

A young woman sits on a cloud in a pink sky. The clouds she sits on say words such as "anxiou" and "nervous"

Lockdown is affecting our mental health

Trigger warning: This content includes references to self-harm and binge eating, which may be sensitive issues for some readers.

As the Covid-19 pandemic crisis rumbles on, and the lockdown order has officially been extended beyond the original three-week deadline – but without a tentative end date being discussed, which is horrible for our states of mind (more on that later), focus has started to shift towards how this is affecting our mental health.

We all know and mostly accept that we must stay indoors (save for one hour of exercise), and we know this is necessary for ‘flattening the curve’ (reducing the number of deaths). What is also true is that the steps required to flatten the curve and save lives, is also flattening the mood of the nation – and in the case of many of you – something much worse. Simply put, being on lockdown, in a constant state of anxiety, with the very real spectre of death all around, everything closed, and economies being on the brink of collapse is having very real consequences for our mental health.

Sometimes you need more than meditation or a run around the block

As a result, there have been a slew of mental health advice articles for young people – some fantastic, some not so great – that more often than not have a kind of jolly, aspirational feel that might not be of much help if you are already at the bottom or on the slide towards it. As Jonathan (19) puts it:

“I am sick of seeing articles telling me to meditate, go talk to a professional or go for walks. I feel so low most days at the moment, I can barely get out of bed and all I want to do is sleep, and smoke and drink myself into oblivion. I can’t afford to see a counsellor and there is a 10-month waiting list to see one on the NHS where I live, which has probably doubled since this crisis.”

The way Jonathan feels is not unusual, and although talking to a therapist or counsellor and seeing your doctor is ideal if possible, and taking positive action (like walks and meditation) can definitely help, we decided to address some problems and seek some short-term, practical solutions that don’t involve chanting, going on 10k runs, or mastering the downward dog.

Self-harm

Irene 16: “I’m so anxious, out of sync and panicked all the time, my cutting is getting worse. I tell myself I’m not going to do it today every day, but then something scares me and I do, because it makes me feel better.”

Self-harm is a coping mechanism, allowing a person to deal with emotional or psychological pain, by inflicting actual pain/harm to themselves. This can also extend to overdosing on drugs or alcohol, or other forms of self-destructive behaviour. Self-harm is very complex, and is often stigmatised, making many young people afraid to speak out and talk about their experiences. If you’re self-harming then it could be that the anxiety and pressure of lockdown is making it worse. This is completely understandable and there’s no need to feel guilty or ashamed about it.

It is important where possible that if you’re self-harming, you should talk to a friend or relative if you feel able to; this is the first step on the road to recovery and sometimes naming the pain and anxiety in the moment can divert you from wanting to hurt yourself. But recovery is a complicated journey and this might not feel like an option right now. If you don’t feel ready to talk, that’s ok. But if you find yourself needing to self-harm during lockdown, you can also use alternative methods that will keep you safe.

Self-harm alternatives

There are several techniques, but here are two substitutes that really work for lots of people:

Take several ice-cubes and either squeeze them hard in your fist or press them against where would you hurt yourself. Do it until you feel a strong sensation. Don’t stop until it melts. And then do it again. And again, if necessary. The feeling it causes won’t hurt you but acts as a good substitute for the actual pain you want to inflict yourself – without the scarring or danger.

Get a red, black or blue crayon and draw on yourself. Big, angry lines and squiggles – shapes and pictures, if you like. The combination of the physical and visual will help to provide the temporary relief you get from self-harming.

If you or someone you know is self-harming, you’re not alone and there are plenty of places you can find support and advice. Speak to The Mix team today.

You can also read The Mix’s articles on breaking the self-harm stigma, having a self-harm relapse, and how to cope with self-harm and how to talk to someone about self-harming.

You can also watch The Mix’s video with Maddie Bruce, who talks about her self-harm recovery journey.

Binge Eating Disorder

Leanne, 15: “With nothing to do and no school to go to, I can’t stop eating. My eating is so out of control, sometimes I think about trying to make myself throw up. I wake up every morning and want to be ‘good’ but then I get bored and it starts again. I’m putting on weight, losing a bit, outing it back on and I just want this to stop.”

Binging is complicated behaviour and occurs because of a variety of reasons. It can be a coping mechanism for dealing with emotional stress or any kind of stress, as well as a way to take control of a situation. It could also be a result of having a restrictive diet. For some it can develop when you cut out lots of foods that you don’t deem to be healthy – so you may adopt a ‘go hard or go home’ attitude or a ‘may as well break the diet’ thought process. Binging often makes you feel ashamed, upset and anxious.

If you are living with or recovering from Binge Eating Disorder, then it may well be triggered by the stress and anxiety caused by lockdown, which can make you feel like things are out of your control. This isn’t your fault and there’s no need to feel guilty, but there are some things you can do to help you cope.

Tips to help you cope

Overall you should trying to maintain a balanced diet, rather than cutting out or restricting on any foods. There’s no need to see certain foods as ‘bad.’ Eating meals and snacks each day keeps energy levels up and leaves you less likely to binge.

And most importantly, if you do binge eat, don’t feel ashamed. Tomorrow is a new day. And especially due to these circumstances it’s important to be kind to yourself. It can be helpful to write down thoughts and feelings and recognise when you feel the need to binge.

Reach out to talk to people! If you feel comfortable doing so, talking to your friends or family can make you feel supported when you’re struggling.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, or think you are in danger of developing one, check out all the organisations that can help you in the ‘Next Steps’ section below.

Read The Mix’s article on Binge Eating Disorder, and their expert chat with eating disorder charity, Beat.

Anxiety

Rishi, 18: “I want to scream every time I hear another person suggest I learn an instrument, language or learn to code during lockdown. My mum’s suggestions to cope with my anxiety get wilder every day and are as about as likely as me scaling Everest at the weekend.”

Anxiety and depression are absolutely knackering and when in the grips of both or either, showering and dressing can seem like massive feats. Well-meaning people will tell you getting up, going for a 10k run and writing a masterpiece will make you feel better, but you should start by thinking much smaller than that.

Do something small

Doing something, doing anything is a good thing on the days you want to pull the duvet over your head, and really that’s the thing to focus on – what you can do. If watching back-to-back episodes of Sex Education is going to make you feel better right now – fantastic – get watching! If binge-reading trashy novels or magazines are going to calm your whirring mind – good – get reading! Does building a city on Sims make you smile or giggle for the first time this week at your own omnipotent powers – good, get building!

Breaking the cycle of dark thoughts and sadness are absolutely critical and if an emotional duvet day is necessary to do this, there is no reason to feel bad about taking one. And if you feel better tomorrow, get up and shower and maybe put on your running shoes – you won’t scale Everest tomorrow, but you might be able to manage a slow run around the block?

For anyone suffering from anxiety, depression or any other mental health issues, please do reach out to The Mix team check out the helplines and organisations below.

Be kind to yourselves

There are hundreds more problems so many of you are suffering, and we’ll be addressing as many as we can in the coming weeks and months. But it’s crucial to remember, that this period we are living in is for lack of a more scientific word, cray. In years, decades and centuries to come, this pandemic will be studied and discussed in classrooms of the future. There is no template, quick fix or instant remedy to get through this and those at the top are as baffled and frightened as the rest of us. So be kind to yourself, don’t give yourself or others a hard time for freaking out, and most of all, keep reaching out when it becomes too much.

Next Steps

  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • selfharmUK provides information and advice about self harm. You can ask a question to their expert panel or share your story.
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Eating Disorders Support has a telephone helpline with 24/7 answer message service and email support for people with eating disorders and anyone concerned about them. Call on 01494 793223.
  • CALM is dedicated to preventing male suicide. Call their national helpline for free on 0800 58 58 58, 5pm-midnight, or visit their webchat service .
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Chloe Combi

Updated on 16-Apr-2020