Everyone knows from personal experience and the Government's growing focus that during the current crisis, our emotional wellbeing and mental health is being tested, with higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression being reported from across a range of sources.
With no end to the crisis in sight, particularly for those with health conditions and no date for a vaccine at hand to provide a permanent solution, we do need to think about how we are going to manage this “new normal” for the longer term. The key has to be Positive Mental Health and self-care; a move Government wants us to pursue through unrestricted levels of physical exercise and access to the outdoors.
Worrying about the impact of COVID on our lives:
The Office for National Statistics tells us that over 8 in 10 adults are “very” or “somewhat” worried as a result of COVID and the uncertainty. Perhaps no surprise there.
The new Government directive; "We must stay alert, control the virus, and in doing so, save lives”, adds to that sense of unrelenting watchfulness and anxiety to monitor and be mindful at all times; stretching our nerves further and with no foreseeable end. This level of anxiety is not uniform in our communities; younger people and those on lower incomes are most affected, with an emerging picture around polarising levels of mental health in our communities, reflecting wider health and resilience issues.
We know that low earners are bearing the brunt of the impact of COVID on their income and daily routines; they are seven times more likely than high earners to have worked in a sector that is now on hold.
Women are also more disproportionately affected: around one third work in a sector that is now on hold compared to men. (Institute for Fiscal Studies)
Although depression and anxiety levels have continued to improve since the imposed lockdown, levels are still much higher than previously reported averages. Younger people (18-29 years) were more likely to report as depressed or anxious than older people (60+); as are those with lower household incomes (less than £30k) (UCL / Mind COVID Tracker Week 6) These figures are anticipated to translate into a 20-30% increase in the suicide rate, if the impact of the 2008 Global recession is to be repeated, with attempted suicides rates accounting for 20 times the number.
Clearly, if we are going to look after our young people and those people with the highest levels of inequity in our society we need to do something proactive and we need to be targeted and persistent.
The number one thing you can do for your mental health is to take exercise:
Each day, almost 4 in 10 Britons are leaving their home for less than two hours; and 1 in 10 are leaving their home for more than two hours to exercise. (YouGov - Coronavirus daily tracker) The most popular reason for leaving the home is to exercise/ walk. (YouGov article)This simple act has been proven to be as effective as talking therapies or taking antidepressants.
The Mental Health Charity, Mind promote physical activity as a way to gain and maintain Positive Mental Health. Mind champions a number of key benefits of exercise including:
Better sleep – by making you feel more tired at the end of the day
Happier moods – physical activity releases feel-good hormones that make you feel better in yourself and give you more energy
Managing stress, anxiety or intrusive and racing thoughts – doing something physical releases cortisol which helps us manage stress. Being physically active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times
Better self-esteem – being more active can make you feel better about yourself as you improve and meet your goals
Reducing the risk of depression – studies have shown that doing regular physical activity can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a period of depression
Connecting with people – doing group or team activities can help you meet new and like-minded people, and make new friends.
Sport England recommend that to get the benefits of physical activity to improve your mood, adults need to be active (slightly out of breath) for 150 minutes a week, with children doing the same for around 60 minutes a day.
People are working it out for themselves:
It has been jaw-dropping the number of activity videos and self -help guides to get people active that have emerged over the past few months, absolutely humbling. The response from the public has been overwhelming, the sheer volume of people who have given their time and energy to engage people and get their communities active. It has made leaders of people who have raised their hands for this role and have changed peoples lives during the crisis. Apart from Joe Wicks, the thing that sticks out for me is that they are all average people and they want to be active and be seen to be active as they recognise and want to celebrate the benefits publicly. They are our champions.
During this crisis, I think it is important that we support people who are experiencing higher levels of need with more emotional and mental pressures to practice self care and seek support from people like them who they can share experiences with and gain confidence from. If we don’t do this we risk further inequalities and a further health epidemic linked to poor mental health which could span a generation. We have to get proactive to prevent poor mental health, which means being proactive about promoting exercise.
There are a number of campaigns that we can all back to get people active from different backgrounds and to celebrate their achievements:
#ALittlebitmoreathome Our Active Lancashire campaign to link you with opportunities to get active in your community.
This Girl Can hosted by Sport England is intended to inspire women to get active
We Are Undefeatable supports people with long term conditions to get active
Sport England supporting people to get active while at home