Coronavirus and mental health: this expert just nailed why it’s OK to not be OK right now

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Speaking on the latest episode of the University of Sheffield’s podcast Coronavirus, Examined, Dr Jilly Gibson-Miller explained why feeling depressed or anxious is a completely normal response to the current situation.     

We are living through a situation most of us will have never experienced before. Whether you’re a key worker on the frontline of the crisis or a single mum struggling to juggle home schooling responsibilities while you work from home, we’re all dealing with our own unique strains and pressures right now.

It’s no surprise then that more of us are dealing with increased levels of anxiety as a result of the pandemic. Last month, figures released by the Office of National Statistics revealed that nearly half (48%) of British people are dealing with “high levels” anxiety as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

This increase in the number of people dealing with mental health issues was the subject of a new podcast from the University of Sheffield’s podcast Coronavirus, Examined which looks at how the pandemic is changing our world and the way we live in it. 

The episode, titled How Coronavirus Is Impacting Our Mental Health, featured an interview with academics Professor Richard Bentall and Dr Jilly Gibson-Miller, whose research has been looking at how the public respond to the pandemic.

“You could think of an epidemic as having two components really,” explains Bentall. “One is the actual epidemic itself, the health effects of a virus passing through the population, sometimes with tragic consequences.

“But there’s also all the knock-on effects – the economic effects, the social effects and the psychological effects. And these themselves carry a terrible burden. And that burden needs to be understood if we’re going to be able to help people. Also if we’re going to recover as a nation.”

Going on to acknowledge that this is a particularly tough time for those in vulnerable groups, people with pre-existing mental health conditions and those dealing with financial instability, Bentall added that there has been a “slight uptick” in levels of depression and anxiety across the UK population since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, despite all of the negative effects the coronavirus pandemic is having on our mental health, Gibson-Miller stressed one vital point: everything we’re feeling is completely normal. 

“These sort of psychological responses to this situation are completely normal for humans – it’s probably quite a functional response in some ways,” she explains. “Just to make it clear so that nobody thinks the whole world is going to be ill – it’s perfectly normal to have these responses.”

It’s a point that NHS psychiatrist Max Pemberton previously stressed to Stylist: “A lot of the feelings we’re experiencing at the moment are normal, and it’s important to not medicalise feelings of distress.” 

It’s important to remember that, however you’re feeling, chances are you’re not alone. As Gibson-Miller and Pemberton explain, these are completely normal responses to an extraordinary situation, and treating your feelings as something to feel guilty about or panic over isn’t necessary.

So next time you find yourself wondering why you’re feeling low, unmotivated or worried about the future, remind yourself that it’s 100% normal to feel that way. 

Coping with anxiety

If you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety and worry during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to understand that this is a completely normal response to the current situation. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, or seek professional advice, here’s three articles that might help.

For more information on anxiety, including what it is and how to cope, you can check out the NHS Every Mind Matters website or visit Mind.

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