Camilla Keyte switches on the video log she has been keeping for Sky News and begins: “I’m just sitting here before pressing record, and I’m thinking ‘am I feeling angry, grumpy, lonely, or just sad?’ To be honest, I think I’m feeling all of them at the same time.”
Her eyes are red and her voice cracks as she sits alone in her bedroom: “I think I’m just feeling helpless, purposeless, really disconnected and useless.”
Ms Keyte, 35, from Gloucestershire, has been shielding since the beginning of lockdown.
She has a congenital heart condition and a rare lung problem.
Her only physical contact since February was one hug with her mother through a shower curtain in June.
She now describes feeling “numb” and says: “I can’t get a reaction out of myself for anything.”
Ms Keyte’s feeling of disconnect and purposeless is spreading more widely, not just among those shielding, but also among young people who can’t go out and find a partner, people in the entertainment sector who have lost the job that defined them, and elderly people who wonder how much of the rest of their lives with be lived under restrictions and isolated from their friends.
I’ve spent the last few weeks travelling the country to assess the psychological impact of this global pandemic, and it’s clear that the combination of the lockdown and the reality of the “new normal” is just too much for many to take.
London musician Astrid Gnosis, 31, admits to having “dark thoughts” since her work dried up.
She is struggling to see where she fits in the world.
She told Sky News: “As debt increases – you start looking at your self-worth. What’s the prospect for someone like me? I came here to study, to work and to live out my potential, and that’s being taken away from me. So, you do feel powerless and sometimes you think – what’s the point?”
Mental health charities are warning of an uptick in the use of their services.
One report after another shows that anxiety and mental distress is on the rise.
Professor David Murphy, vice president of the British Psychological Society, said: “It’s been like a pebble dropping into the pond with ripples that go right out. At the beginning of the crisis it was a real direct impact on fear of the virus itself, but as we’ve gone on it’s more of an indirect effect on people’s jobs and livelihoods and also their social structures.”
Yet, despite this growing need, Sky News research has found the number of referrals to adult psychological therapy services since the pandemic is much lower than last year.
In the six months from March there were over 220,000 fewer adult referrals than in 2019.
Charities fear we are storing up trouble.
Marjorie Wallace, from mental health charity SANE, said: “We’ve had services that have been absolutely threadbare before Covid and now people feel they can’t receive help. People have to rely on being monitored by telephone calls, often they just wait and wait, and the call never comes.”
Responding to the referral figures Baroness Barran, the loneliness minister, said: “That is definitely a worry and we are very clear as a government that the NHS and all its mental health services are absolutely open for business and people should be taking advantage of that.”
The referral drop may in part be due to reduced access to GPs along with a growing reluctance by patients to bother the NHS at a time of crisis.
But a study this week by the Royal College of Psychiatrists also found that two-fifths of mental health patients waiting for treatment are forced to resort to emergency or crisis services.
The referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) might give us an indication of where this is all going.
After showing a similar trajectory to the adult figures, the data for July came out earlier this week and CAMHS reported the largest number of referrals on record.
One wonders what the figures will look like for September when children first came back into contact with their schools.
Studies show the mental health risk from the pandemic has increased most for younger people.
Recovering alcoholic Ben Robinson, 29, from Wimbledon says he has coped with lockdown but it is the uncertainty of the future that is impacting his peer group.
He told Sky News: “No one can stand here and say it hasn’t made an impact on their lives but especially for those of my generation that are looking to make the next move in their life, which let’s be honest under 30 you are always looking for that next move – but it’s not there.
“And even people who aren’t in my circles but my friends who don’t have specific mental problems are starting to highlight them to me, almost coming to me for advice on how to deal with this low-lying feeling of lack of motivation or lack of worth.”
Another group more severely mentally affected by the pandemic are those from poorer backgrounds.
In Ely, Cardiff, the pandemic has been intensely challenging.
Parts of Ely are among the poorest 10% of areas in the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation.
Canon Jan Gould, at the Church of the Resurrection, told Sky News: “We’ve seen quite an increase in suicide rates here, particularly among young men in their thirties and forties.
“So now I think since lockdown started, we’ve done ten suicide funerals, which is way above our annual average for suicides. And of course, when the furlough scheme ends, who knows what’s going to happen with that picture?
“I think in all of the cases of people who died, they may have had underlying mental health issues that were normally manageable, but with the pandemic, losing their jobs or a relationship breaking up, then that’s been the thing that’s tipped them over the edge.”
In Stansted in Essex, the village was shocked by three suicides in the month of July. Locals responded by launching a mental health outreach project.
Elaine Knibbs founded “Let’s Talk” and said within days she had hundreds of volunteers and businesses wanting to help.
She said: “What I didn’t expect was so many people approaching us and telling us their life stories and their traumas. People crying in the street, and one man telling us the project had stopped him from taking his life.”
Even while I was interviewing Elaine, a woman with anorexia came up to the group of volunteers and was in tears as she explained just how good it was to know she could talk to someone.
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Not everyone is feeling the effects of the pandemic in the same way – but there is increasing mental distress in society.
Many of the social norms we use to escape from ourselves, such as partying or going to a concert or singing in church, these have become restricted, even illegal.
At the same time, dreams and ambitions have been put on hold.
Worst of all some people have become more isolated, and as a result lonely.
“Loneliness is a killer,” warns Ms Wallace. She believes the UK is storing up a mental health pandemic.
Baroness Barran said if she has one message for World Mental Health Day it is this: “The one thing I would want to say is that every single one of us can do something.
“We can pick up the phone and talk to someone. We can write a letter and tell someone how much they mean to us. We can make those connections.”
Sky News is hosting a mental health debate show at 8.30pm – if you have any questions, experiences or advice you would like to share with us, we would love to hear from you.
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