December 7, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Rebekah Lindo
18/01/2021

Day two hundred and fifty five, I have been locked up for two hundred and fifty five days, whilst a serial killer walks freely amongst our streets. Each day I watch the Prime Minister’s daily update, or now as I like to call it, the Doomsday Update, as they tell me to “stay in, stay alert”, to keep me safe. How is it that I feel safer amongst a known killer than I do in my own mind?

My mind ebbs and flows like the baby blue of my once calm bedroom walls; once a safe haven, and now I can’t seem to escape the storm it brings. What is wrong with me? Does everyone feel like this? My Caribbean upbringing is telling me to push it down, whilst the dark voices in my head have never been so loud. 2 hours go by and my eyes sting from my salt laden tears, a painful reminder that I am not ok. I look like I have had an allergic reaction to myself- This silence has never been so loud, my loneliness has never felt so profound. I drift off into what I think is sleep, but no rest comes from it as I fight with my thoughts till the early hours of the morning. 8 am, my alarm violently brings me back into a reality that I so desperately want to escape.

When the government announced the first lockdown, there was a sense of comradeship amongst the British public. We were working together to defeat this mortal enemy that was threating our livelihood and way of life. These were unprecedented times, there had never been a global pandemic in this generation, no one really knew what to do, or what to expect. For the first time in modern day history the world was at a standstill. Our enemy, was everywhere, and nowhere at the same time. It lurked unknowingly in healthy individuals causing nothing more than mere fatigue but seemed to be a deadly killer to so many others. It seemed as if your fate was being randomly picked out of a hat, and no one knew who was next. Our enemy had many faces, but so many of which were still unknown. Unsurprisingly, uncertainty and fear became the diet of so many, as the country plunged into a fully-fledged lockdown, “Am I going to lose my job?” “How will I pay my mortgage?” “What is going to happen to my business?” were amongst many other commonly asked questions. As we tried to find answers to how we will maintain our lifestyle, few people considered another serious threat that had been at rest on our shores for so long, one that had been pushed aside as a result of the busyness of life but seemed to have awakened by the lack of social contact and isolation brought on by lockdown. Few of us had asked the question “Is this going to affect my mental health?”

Mental health in young adults

Mental health is the second largest burden of disease in England, yet many of us still struggle to openly talk about our own mental health problems. I am no stranger to my own mental health struggles- I first realised I had anxiety at 13,  after receiving a B grade on my chemistry test. I remember the feeling of that first panic attack like it was yesterday, the only thought in my mind at that time as I frantically tried to search for air in what seemed like an airless room was “Am I going to die!?”. However, it was not until my first year at university over 5 years later that I finally sought out medical help for my mental health struggles.

This may not be the same for others, many may not realise that they are dealing with mental health problems and will assume just like I did, that everyone feels like this and that they are just not good at dealing with it, which is so far from the truth. Julianne Holt-Lunstand PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, stated that a lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or is equivalent to alcohol misuse. Loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to our physical and mental health as obesity, and increases the risk of premature mortality. If this is the case, then why is treating mental illness still seen as such a taboo in today’s society?

A survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation found that young people aged between 18 to 24 were the most likely age group to experience loneliness since lockdown began. Prior to lockdown, 1 in 6 young people reported feelings of loneliness and isolation; since the lockdown began this figure has almost doubled with young people being 3 times more likely to report feelings of loneliness and isolation, with almost half (44%) reporting feeling this way. Furthermore, research published in the British Medical Journal of Psychiatry found that the rate of suicidal thoughts have increased during lockdown, especially among young adults. With the abrupt end to social interactions, and limitations being placed on any social interactions, this has left many young people like myself, with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Gone are the days of after work drinks, or movie nights with the girls, or even those spontaneous Saturday nights out, which always somehow seem to leave the best long lasting memories. As winter plunges us into darkness, and SAD, (Seasonal Affective Disorder) being the reality for so many, it seems that there is no end in sight for these dark and lonely days.

Social networking: the good and the ugly

Social networking seemed somewhat of a cure all for feelings of loneliness and isolation during lockdown in its attempt to create a sense of community amidst an isolated world. However, a question remains: are social networking sites doing more harm than good? Several studies have indicated a relationship between social networking sites and depression, as well as a reduced self-esteem, especially in children and adolescents. Other studies however, seem to show the opposite and have highlighted the positive impact of social networking on self-esteem. Social networking is a bit of a double-edged sword. It has allowed us to remain connected during the lockdown, but also seems to have a negative impact on our own mental health. I have definitely found the latter to be true. My increased use of social networking sites over lockdown left me with feelings of inadequacy as I helplessly scrolled through a feed that showed all of what my friends had achieved during lockdown, and I couldn’t help but feel like what I was doing was not measuring up. It is important to remember that social media is not real life, and people only tend to display positive things that are happening in their lives, and tend to leave out the bad and the ugly.

What you can do

We are in a global pandemic. Life as we know it has changed and probably won’t be the same for the foreseeable future. This is completely out of our control, which is a hard truth many of us will have to accept. Planning is no longer a simple task, as we do not know what tomorrow may bring. In all of this, as important as it is to be aware of the bigger picture, it is also just as important to look after yourself, and your mental health, and have comfort that life is not going to be this way forever.  Social media is not real life. Talk to your friends or family, go on walks, find something to put your mind at ease, and don’t lose hope.  

If you are ever feeling isolated or alone, below is the information of several charities, that you can reach out to, if you ever feel like you need to.

Helpful links and resources

Samaritans  Open all day everyday creating a safe space for you to talk about whatever life is throwing your way. It works to make sure that there is always someone there for anyone who needs someone.

https://www.samaritans.org/

Tel: 116 123

NightlineAn anonymous ,confidential and non-judgemental listening service listening and information service run by students in London, for students in London where they are able to talk to university students about anything that is troubling them. As this service is run by students, they can directly empathise with their callers problems

https://nightline.org.uk

Tel:  (+44) 207 631 0101

Mind- for better mental healthThey offer a wide range of support to empower people who may be experiencing a mental health problem, through emergency advice should you need urgent help, through their crisis coping tools, if you are in a crisis right now and are looking for ways to help yourself, and through caller support, where you are able to access a member of their team directly through their Infoline, and their Legal line– which provides legal information and general advice on mental health related law.

Website:- https://www.mind.org.uk/

Infoline: 0300 123 3393

Email: info@mind.org.uk
Text86463

Legal line0300 466 6463

Email: legal@mind.org.uk

Open 9am -6pm