Now is the Time

Dear All

As we reach an end to Mental Health Week 2020, what are we thinking?  What have we learned?  Where are we at?

The answers to this will be as individual and personal as there are people in Cumbria – indeed, across the UK and globally – for this is a situation of the strangest kind: a physical viral infection, the impact of which is having significant impacts on the human race’s mental health and well-being.  Is that hyperbolic?  I don’t think so.  The scale is global, the impact is on an entire species.  We know the virus directly affects our physical health if we are unlucky enough to contract it.  Or at least it might: we also know that some amongst us will be asymptomatic carriers, unwittingly harbouring the virus and unaware of our “ability” to cause severe illness and death.

We also know that it has an indirect impact on our health: the populace’s health-seeking behaviour has dramatically changed in a two-month period: visits to A&E are down; appointments for elective surgery are being dropped.  Clinicians are aware that the country hasn’t got well overnight: we are scared to visit health centres, so we are putting off “getting it checked out” for fear of the possible implications.  This is in spite of hospitals and general practice creating “hot” and “cold” zones of possible/known viral presence; of newly established physical barriers to separate patients and clinicians; of the much-discussed use of Personal Protective Equipment and social distancing practices; of the overnight switch to telephone and video appointments.

But the mental health and well-being implications are of course even wider than this.  Usual social norms and patterns of behaviour have been massively disrupted.  Rites of passage – birthdays, weddings, funerals – have all changed: smaller, family-only celebrations which don’t allow for anything other than a video-link for those lucky or wealthy enough to be able to access the technology.  The social “emotional releases” these events usually allow – laughing, crying, chatting, dancing, hugging, reminiscing – are at best reduced, if not completely absent.  Bereavement services are thinking about the impact on the grief “cycle” and the effect on people’s mental well-being, when traditional support mechanisms are absent.  Home-based carers – often the partners of older people with dementia, the parents of children with “special educational needs” or challenging behaviours – must be wondering whether day services or respite care provision will ever return  – and how things will be if they don’t.  The state’s reliance on this voluntary care provision – and its failure to invest in establishing its resilience – is beginning to generate a snowball of demand we must tackle, urgently, now.

The formal voluntary sector are critical providers in this arena – and the flexibility and innovation it demonstrates daily gives me hope we may yet be able to support those who are struggling – and perhaps even more importantly, prevent those who are “coping” from becoming ill.   If ever there was a point of realisation that the state can neither prevent or cure ill health on it’s own, it is now: now is the time for volunteers, carers, family and neighbours to buckle up for the long ride to come and to help each other understand and adjust to a new set of norms and a new, caring society.

David Allen
Cheif Executive Officer
Cumbria CVS

PS I am participating in a live discussion on this mental health on Facebook this evening at 7pm:

Please also take a few minutes to complete the Mental Health and Mental Wellbeing surveys which will close on Tuesday – see next post.