The lifting of lockdown hasn’t necessarily lifted our spirits. There are valid reasons for that, which Mike Stafford explores here...

As we emerge from the strange hinterland that is “lockdown,” we might expect our mental health to improve. Psychologically, lockdown could be understood as winter; life in the outside world began to die off, leisure activity and social lives tapered off, and we retreated from the darkness outside, heading home to wait for better times. It makes sense for the lifting of lockdown to be like spring – green shoots of recovery appear, and plans for the coming season can be made.

Unfortunately, it’s here that the analogy breaks down. For many of us, the lifting of lockdown brings a different set of problems. 

From a certain perspective, lockdown offered certainty. Seven little words told us everything most of us needed to know – “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.” It might not have been pleasant, but the story we could tell ourselves was simple. However hard things were, we were heroes making a noble sacrifice. Now, as we emerge into a future that’s as strange as it is familiar, that certainty is gone. 

Has the anxiety lifted? Has frustration disappeared? Has the lingering fear evaporated? Well, no, not quite. Dear friends of mine are struggling with the ambiguity of it all. The virus that kept us indoors for three months is still lurking out there, silent and deadly. Now, unavoidably, the set of problems we face has changed. We no longer have the dubious comfort blanket of avoiding the outside world. Some of us are returning to work; others face the nightmare of job-hunting during the middle of an economic calamity; some of us are still furloughed, existing in a bizarre limbo that can slowly make the brain atrophy.

The world is opening up, but we’re exploring a strange new landscape in which we have to manage risk to – and for – ourselves. If you’re feeling like this landscape is somehow more corrosive to your mental wellbeing than the one we’ve left, then you’re not alone. There are a number of factors that can still eat away at us.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need trust in government. As individuals we can play our part, but very few among us are experienced epidemiologists. If we’re to balance economic prosperity with risk to life, we need support in picking our way through the risks. Competent government is essential to mitigate the public’s anxiety. As it is, we have a government that – to take one example – releases new lockdown regulations just 15 hours prior to the opening of pubs. Very little is more reassuring than knowing your environment is being protected by capable authorities. It is not a party-political issue to say that grave mistakes have been made in the UK, so public and private anxiety is understandable.

We can also be forgiven for feeling the anxious or frustrated ache at seeing normality so near yet so far away. Since lockdown has begun to lift, I have taken my family to one of our regular outdoor spots, and the necessary regulations change your perspective on it entirely. Where once we’d freely roam the open landscape, the one way system and unavoidable caution leaves you feeling like you’re visiting a friend who has forgotten your name. 

That, of course, is a first world problem compared to the sheer enormity of the pandemic experience. In the same way that WWII has seared itself into our national identity, the virus will surely have a similar impact. One in a thousand Brits has died since COVID-19 hit; its death toll surpasses that of the Blitz. At the peak, we were experiencing the equivalent of multiple Lockerbie disasters each day. The idea that a society can move past that grim hour without some sort of collective act of processing is bizarre. And so, here we are, caught in a fog that we aren’t sure is tragedy or normality, unsure whether we’re moving backwards or forwards. This is a recipe for profound confusion.

And so, if you’re not feeling the elation, elevation or relief that you were expecting as ‘normality’ allegedly returns, don’t beat yourself up. Focus on what you can control, and take guidance from our last article. One thing really is certain, as the old Persian adage tells us – “this too shall pass.”

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If you are currently facing any sort of issues with your own mental health, do not suffer in silence. The NHS is here for you, as is Voice Britannia! We may be a seemingly-inert website, but we have active social media channels and a forum! Sometimes, just chatting to someone can be the best medicine.

Mike will be back with more incite and advice next week!