I’ll make a confession: I’m feeling low. As someone who has struggled with their mental health in the past, I know it’s not catastrophic, or a crisis, but that heavy feeling is there all the same.
I also know I’m not the only one who feels this way – far from it, considering the discussions I’ve seen on social media, and in my own friendship group. A therapist I’m close with told me last week that the number of people getting in touch to start therapy has skyrocketed. I know a few people who have taken tentative steps towards getting support in the last fortnight too.
This recent phenomenon of hopelessness shouldn’t necessarily be surprising – I think there are a number of reasons why things are suddenly feeling even more bleak than before.
The arrival of Tier 2 and 3 restrictions across the country definitely has something to do with it. A US study found that symptoms of depression are three times higher during coronavirus lockdown – putting Covid measures on par with the aftermath of other large-scale traumatic events. Another piece of research conducted by the University of Glasgow showed that the rate of suicidal thoughts increased over the course of the last UK lockdown. While most British people support new lockdown rules brought in over the last few months, shutting our doors often brings isolation with it. This time round, it may feel even worse, particularly as the Zoom catch-ups and quizzes that we saw at the start of the pandemic seem to have fallen out of favour.
The changing of the seasons also definitely plays a role in our shared feelings of glumness – 29 per cent of people in Britain already experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (for example low energy levels, depression, low self-esteem and anxiety) as we move into the winter months. So, even under “normal” conditions, we’d be seeing people feeling worse around this time of year. Combine the drudgery of winter with the prospect of more lockdowns, and we have a recipe for disaster: How will we see our loved ones when it’s too cold to go for walks, or meet up in the park? The impact of this will affect all of us – undoubtedly hitting the most isolated hardest.
The general loss of “unprecedented-ness” is also something that might be subtly making the coming months feel harder. Dr Aisha Ahmad, a professor of international security at University of Toronto Scarborough, who has experience of working in disaster zones, said last month that the six-month mark of any sustained crisis situation is difficult. We are all exhausted. Perhaps we’ve also lost many of those glimmers of optimism – like mutual aid, clapping for carers, the housing of rough sleepers, and the belief that this crisis might present a secret window to radically transform our unjust society. Now we’ve reached October, there is a sense that in fact nothing has changed – inequalities have only become more entrenched amid global turmoil, and we just want this all over and done with before we completely run out of steam.
Finally, we cannot underestimate the cumulative impact of the social and political turmoil around us. Covid deaths are once again steeply on the rise, this week reaching their highest since early June. Many of us have lost jobs, or are coming to the tail end of our furlough support, with little or no financial help ahead. The government has resumed business as usual as they continue to rail against the poorest and most marginalised, voting for a pay rise for themselves and to cut free school meals in the holidays. And globally, the trauma of watching people brutalised by their governments has also resumed, with violence against End Sars protesters all over social media this week. To make matters worse, we are all indoors more, spending more time doomscrolling our way into despair as what feels like the apocalypse continues to unfold.
I’m sorry if I’ve brought you down with me – but in rehashing all this, at least the root of the reasons that many of us are not feeling our best right now can become clearer. Of course, it is equally important to think about what we can be optimistic about, as trite as that may sound in times like this.
The government may not be looking out for us – but we have still not been stripped of our ability to look out for each other. To remind myself of this, I recently returned to the ideas of Anne Boyer, a poet and essayist whose optimism saw me through the first difficult months of this crisis. Among everything, Boyer is still hopeful, saying in an interview earlier this month: “what we were told would go on forever has been proven, in 2020, fragile and illusory. Things have totally changed, will change, are changing.” And she is right – nothing is as stable as we previously thought it to be. Spring will eventually come.
As I was recently despairing about the current global political climate, a friend also pointed out to me that where there are problems, there are often coordinated responses which are easy to overlook. For example, in response to the violence against Sars protestors, we have seen a massive, global show of solidarity and support – meanwhile the continued existence of protest in itself shows a spirit of resistance that cannot be quashed. In the UK, people like Marcus Rashford have also given us reason to hold onto hope; inspiring local businesses across the country to address the hunger and inequality that the government has so intentionally endorsed. Although the news does not always focus on it, where politicians fail us, there is real, tangible action on the ground to prevent even further catastrophe.
When it comes to isolation, while I still believe winter will be hard, there are steps we can all take to support each other. There is nothing to stop us from checking in on our neighbours – making that housing block group chat we wish we’d set up in March, getting involved in mutual aid once again, finding out who is vulnerable in our immediate surroundings and making sure they have everything they need. We can still make a mental note of the friends who struggle the most, or the ones who don’t tend to reach out when they are suffering, and resolve to check in on them once a week. We may even have to start up those dreaded Zoom quizzes again – it’s worth it if it means we can stay connected and afloat.
I’m still feeling lower than usual. But as the sun begins to peek below the blinds in my bedroom, I’m reflecting on how, wherever there is the potential to care for each other, there is hope. That applies on both a political and a personal level. As Boyer wrote back in March: “The good in us [must] break through the layers of hateful nonsense we've been drowning in.”