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Life after coronavirus: as lockdown eases, our ‘new normal’ needs to be one which puts mental health first

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Lauren Geall
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People in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic

As lockdown eases and we get our first glimpses of life after coronavirus, we have a chance to ensure our ‘new normal’ is one which rejects ‘always on’ culture and puts our mental health first.

Talking about our mental health has never been more important. The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the wellbeing of people across the country – and as lockdown eases, we need to make sure this isn’t forgotten.

That’s the message behind a new campaign by mental health charity Mind, which reveals that two out of three (65%) adults over 25 and three quarters (75%) of young people aged 13-24 with an existing mental health problem reported worse mental health during the pandemic. That’s on top of the fact that more than one in five adults (22%) with no previous experience of poor mental health now say that their mental health is poor or very poor.

It’s clear that, without sustained focus and investment in mental health services, the UK will struggle to cope with the mental health crisis that emerges from the pandemic. After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve been warned of an impending mental health crisis – in a statement released on 14 May, the UN’s health experts warned that the coronavirus pandemic has “severely impacted” the mental health of societies across the world. 

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“The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil - they all cause or could cause psychological distress,” Devora Kestel, director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mental health department, said at the time. “The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently.”

It’s undeniable that this crisis will leave a long-lasting mark on society – as the latest Mind figures show, people who have never struggled with their mental health before have found themselves dealing with increased psychological distress throughout the pandemic. But we don’t just need a system which provides support to those people facing mental health problems at the moment – we need to build a ‘new normal’ which puts our mental health and wellbeing first at all times.

Because while the pandemic has undoubtedly presented a massive mental health challenge, it’s important to remember that the lives we led before the crisis were tough on our mental health, too. 

A woman dealing with stress
The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on our mental health, but our lives before the crisis weren't good for us, either.

It’s a sentiment that mental health advocate and author Matt Haig nailed in a recent tweet.

“Yes lockdown poses its own mental health challenges,” he wrote. “But can we please stop pretending our former world of long working hours, stressful commutes, hectic crowds, shopping centres, infinite choice, mass consumerism, air pollution and 24/7 everything was a mental health utopia.”

As Haig expertly highlights, it’s easy to forget that the world we lived in pre-pandemic – with its high-pressure jobs, ‘always on’ burnout-inducing culture and fast-paced routines – wasn’t the stress-free, idyllic haven we’re all remembering it as. As we yearn for a return to ‘normal’ – for pubs to open and to see our friends again – it’s important that we don’t see things through rose-tinted glasses.

The coronavirus pandemic has given us the option to create a new ‘normal’. Instead of burning ourselves out with endless overtime and never switching off from social media, we can use the skills and routines we’ve been forced to develop as a result of the crisis to create something new. As we return to our daily lives, we should take time to select the bits of ‘normal’ we actually want to return to. 

Woman painting
We need to make sure that the habits we've formed to get us through the pandemic – such as new creative hobbies and daily exercise routines – continue after coronavirus.

On top of this, we also need to take the habits we’ve built during lockdown and transfer them into life post-coronavirus. Whether you’ve adopted a new creative hobby, started reading before you go to bed or found you really enjoy going for daily walks, why not make sure to continue those activities as lockdown lifts?

While the coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of strain on our mental health, it’s also offered us the chance to start an incredibly important conversation about what we want from our lives and given us the time we need to re-evaluate what really matters.

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As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure we don’t rush back to our hectic schedules and continue to sacrifice our mental health for the sake of our working or social lives. 

This horrific crisis has given us a chance to collectively change the way we live our lives, for the better of everyone. Let’s not waste it.

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This article was originally published on 24 May and has been updated throughout.

Images: Getty

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Lauren Geall

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