Looking after our mental health and staying safe from suicide during the COVID-19 lockdown

Our lives have been temporarily turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. We are all taking unprecedented measures to protect our physical health and that of the wider public. It’s important that we follow the measures that have been put in place.

In these somewhat surreal circumstances, looking after our mental health matters just as much. I’m sure we have all seen well-meaning and kind messages online calling for us all to “stay positive.” That advice is perfectly pleasant, but alone is not very useful – so what can we practically do to stay well?

Having suffered from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts for many years, I have become accustomed to trying to remember that it’s OK not to be OK. Even in such unusual circumstances, this is still true. When I began to feel isolated and anxious about the future, it took me some time to remind myself that it’s still OK not to be OK. Realising this was important. However, you’re feeling about all that’s happening around us, it’s OK to feel that way and you are not alone in finding it difficult.

Talking about these feelings still helps. The biggest thing that has helped me in the first few weeks of social distancing has been staying in touch with friends and colleagues. In fact, the isolation we are all experiencing has meant ive had more phone and online contact with friends and colleagues than I usually would. It’s been a genuine lifeline for both general chatting and knowing I have someone to talk to if I need to. If you need to talk, or immediate help, reach out to someone. It may not feel the same, but it can still help to talk even if it can’t be face-to-face.

Self-care may feel more difficult when you’re stuck indoors, it certainly has for me. It may be tempting if you’re working from home or not able to go to work to spend the whole day in your pyjamas. I’ve had to work hard to resist that temptation but keeping some sense of routine does help. The simple things like getting up and dressed and keeping my working from home to 9 to 5 have proved useful.

Perhaps one of the upsides of having so much more time is that it can be used to do things we might not ordinarily have time to do that we enjoy or help us to stay well. I’ve logged back into a meditation app I used to use often but seem to struggle to find the time for. There might be different things for you – perhaps you find arts and crafts relaxing or playing a musical instrument relaxing but never have the time. Maybe you have a pile of unread books you’d always intended to read. If any of these things help, make time in your days to do them.

Social distancing has changed many things and this may affect safety plans you may have made for if you feel. It’s vital to keep that plan up to date. I keep my safety plan on the Stay Alive app and have made sure I reviewed it. Some things in my original safety plan would not work without breaking social distancing rules, so it needed to be changed to the next best alternative. Think about ways you can replace face to face visits and conversations with reaching out digitally where possible. I’ve also made sure those closest to me know about what I’d like to do if I feel at risk.

Please, through this extraordinary period, stay safe by staying at home. But we all should also take steps to stay safe from suicide and take care of your mental health. You should still ask for help if you need it and reach out if you are worried about someone else, because conversations can save lives.

Further information: Mind have produced an excellent advice for people worried about the effects of Coronavirus on their mental health, which you can read here.