This Mental Health Awareness Week, as Wales enters week nine of the Coronavirus lockdown, we asked our in-house Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Jayne Williams, to share her thoughts on what we can learn from Covid-19.

Week 9.  And counting. Like many of you, I’m wondering how the next 9 weeks are going to look, and the next 9 months.  People talk of the ‘new normal’ being different to the ‘old normal’, so what does that mean for us all? And our mental health?

Every week there’s a different need, a different story, a new trauma we hear about - all of it keeping our feelings on alert; taking its toll on our bodies, our thoughts, our relationships, our sleep, and our plans.  Life as we knew it; life as we took it for granted; is on hold, with no date yet able to be set for any kind of end…

The challenge presented

Lockdown has undoubtedly brought very difficult times for us all – financial worries, social isolation, fear and panic, illness, loss, childcare and the challenges of home schooling and juggling multiple roles.

For many people we support it can be even more difficult – we know that a large majority have had multiple past traumatic experiences of abuse and loss.  So, being trapped at home, feeling isolated, having no control over decisions, fearing illness and death, is often a stark reminder of times they have felt similarly scared or unhappy in previous relationships and situations.

As a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Llamau, my team and I have been asking ourselves the best way we can help, like so many of you. We know inherently that this change will impact on the mental health of everyone, for better or worse, and that we have to recognise this and support our colleagues and people who are part of our services - not just now, but in the longer term.

How can we respond in the best way?

Clearly, there is a need to adapt. Alongside colleagues in other departments, we have provided clear succinct information about COVID-19, ways to improve wellbeing, helpline information and activity ideas on our colleague web pages. Regular weekly emails are sent to the whole organisation highlighting good work and good news from all areas. 

Our psychology team have set up a Wellbeing email and phone line for colleagues, and another for colleagues to get advice about how to improve their support to others. And we have listened to our surveys about how this support is being received.

Most of all, we have been careful not to assume everyone feels the same- in lockdown we are just as unique in our responses as we are in other areas of life.  We have no criteria for access to our support – just email or phone if you think we can help.  We help people by listening, being curious about their story and being alongside them. 

The ‘new normal’ – what can we learn?

Compassion and kindness are in abundance across Llamau and I have been astounded at the variety of ways people are supporting each other, and the depth of care and empathy we are witnessing. 

As time has progressed it’s this other side of the pandemic story that I am struck by more and more.  Even in the worst situations, the life blood of ‘connection’ is really taking root. I hear of people talking to neighbours more, getting to know and use their local area, coming together to learn new hobbies, young people thanking workers for phone support, colleagues supporting one another, people starting to think about parts of this world they might want to ‘keep’ in the ‘new normal’.

I believe I am witnessing the early seeds of Post Traumatic Growth (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004) whereby people can find personal growth after very difficult experiences. Growth tends to come in people’s views of themselves, their relationships with others and what is important in the world.

Has this experience made you re-evaluate what’s important to you? Has it given you a new confidence in your ability to cope should difficult things happen? Have you found a greater compassion for others? A greater respect for certain professions? A value in the simpler parts of life like safety, food, time with loved ones? Have others been more able and willing to work together with you?

Then perhaps this is what we all need to take into the ‘new normal’ – the parts that have reduced bureaucracy, taken a ‘can-do’ approach, brought different sectors of our society and economy together in a joint goal. Whilst we would never have wished for COVID-19 in the world, perhaps we can draw strength from our response to it.

Perhaps if we took this compassionate approach to other challenges in society, and stayed permanently out of our individual positions, we could make positive changes that would make a profound difference to all of our mental health.

Tedeschi, R.G., & Calhoun, C.G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 1 – 18.