Hopelessness. Is that something you have felt, as we ease out of lockdown?
During stage three restrictions, two to three times as many Australians have reported rates of mild depression than usual, according to a recent study Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.
In the UK, new research found almost one in five (21%) adults felt hopeless during the first half of June – with the unemployed, young adults and those with pre-existing mental health conditions especially impacted.
Almost a third (32%) of 18- to 24-year-olds and 31% of people with pre-existing mental health conditions felt hopeless, according to new data from the Mental Health in the Pandemic study, led by the Mental Health Foundation, in partnership with the universities of Cambridge, Swansea, Strathclyde and Belfast.
The poll of 4,294 adults aged 18 and above, carried out between 18 and 22 June, also found more than a quarter who are unemployed felt hopeless.
“What our research shows is that even as lockdown is easing, millions are still struggling,” said Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director at the Mental Health Foundation, who has called for a government mental health response and recovery plan.
“We’re not all in this together. It’s clear that the pandemic remains a much more devastating experience for certain groups, who number millions of people.”
For those who are struggling with feelings of hopelessness right now, psychotherapist Rakhi Chand, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), has some advice.
1. Talk about it.
Chand urges people to talk to loved ones – or charities, therapists, support networks – about it. The NHS is keen to remind people they can still access free therapy, although mostly over the phone or virtually. You can also find trusted private therapists through sites such as Counselling Directory, BACP and UKCP.
“Talk to people you trust, or a professional,” says Chand. “Hopelessness is a heavy feeling. Don’t be alone with it. In ten years of practice, I don’t recall anyone struggling with hopelessness saying that it helped to keep it to themselves. And I realise that for many this takes much courage.”
2. Don’t judge yourself.
Don’t fight it if you feel hopeless – or make it worse by judging yourself for feeling that way, she adds. It’s a normal response to have, given the situation we find ourselves in. And remember, you’re not alone in these feelings.
3. Stay in the present.
“Hopelessness is inherently about the future,” explains Chand – so try and stay in the present. You can do this by: practising mindfulness, exercise, engaging with a puzzle, reading a book, cooking, listening to music, or seeing friends. Focus on what you’re doing there and then, not on the future.
4. Take a break from social media.
Step away from social media if you can, says Chand, as it can fuel feelings of hopelessness. “Social media is far from being in the present and for many – especially younger people – it’s an addiction,” she says.
“Set aside time on a daily or weekly basis to be phone-free. Tell people you’re doing that to help you be accountable.” If it’s hard to resist the urge to check your phone, give it to someone else to look after, she suggests.
5. Seek help.
“If you feel that hopeless that you want to hurt yourself, call the emergency services,” she says. “If that’s not quite where you are at, the Samaritans
could also help.”
We need government action, too
There are glimmers of hope from the latest survey. Levels of anxiety and worry about the pandemic have fallen across the population, from 62% of UK adults surveyed at the beginning of lockdown to 49%.
Professor Tine Van Bortel, an expert in global public health from the University of Cambridge, acknowledge this is good news – but added that this should not obscure the fact vulnerable groups are still struggling.
“The UK and devolved governments must respond to their needs, to prevent many people’s current mental distress from escalating into tragic long-term consequences,” she said. “This research clearly identifies where some of those areas of most need are – including young adults, people with existing mental health problems and the unemployed.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact this pandemic can have on people’s mental health.”
They pointed out that mental health support continues to be available for those who need it during this time. “NHS services remain open and we are providing £9.2m of funding to national and local mental health charities to support adults and children affected by the pandemic,” they said.
“Mental health services will continue to expand further and faster thanks to a minimum £2.3bn of extra investment a year by 2023/24 as part of the Long Term Plan.”
Prof Bortel said any policies going forward should be developed in “meaningful consultation” with stakeholder groups and the wider public, “to ensure they adequately address all needs”.
“There is a unique opportunity now to do things better and get it right,” she said.