20 May 2020

A new survey for The Big Lunch shows more than 40 per cent of the population feel lockdown measures have had a negative impact on their mental health, but not everyone is talking about it. One in 3 of those affected has not spoken to someone about their emotional wellbeing.

The findings come as no surprise to Presenter & Comedian Jo Brand, Ambassador of The Big Lunch. Former psychiatric nurse Jo says: “This health crisis poses a threat to people’s emotional wellbeing. As a nation we have no choice but to isolate ourselves, which can result in loneliness, anxiety and stress. What is worrying is that people don’t really seem to be talking about those feelings. When lockdown measures are relaxed, these anxieties may not magically go away.”

As Mental Health Awareness week draws to a close, Sophie, our Scotland Country Manager has written about her experience of mental health during this strange time and how important it is to reach out to each other.

Our conversations about mental health have changed over the past few months. During the initial weeks of the lockdown, most of my conversations started off with exchanges about how weird things felt, how quiet the streets were - talking about the situation, rather than talking about our feelings.

More recently that’s changed - I’m having more and more conversations where people are able to talk about mental health, loneliness and our struggles.

We are asking, ‘And how are you doing?’ not with one-sided sympathy, but with empathy, and a shared sense of what we are going through together. Although we are all in very different situations, everyone is affected by coronavirus to some extent, and the adage ‘everyone has mental health’ has never felt more true.

So how are we doing? And how are we coping?

Lots of us feel lonely, worried for our health or those of our families, or overwhelmed by the demands of work and family crashing into the same house. Those of us who struggled with our mental health before the crisis are juggling this as well.  For all of us, our support structures - exercise, meeting friends - fell away when lockdown started, leaving us to try and cope without them. 

And that’s why looking out for each other is more important than ever. Not just for our families and partners, but our communities and our neighbours. The comfort and solidarity of the people around us gives us strength in dark days.

Last week I passed someone on my street, stopping to interact with their gorgeous dog. I’d not met my neighbour (or his dog) before, and was happily surprised when he asked how I was, in a way that indicated he genuinely wanted to know.  Later on, when speaking to someone in my stairwell, someone who I’d passed every week but never spoken to, it emerged that we were both recently bereaved – trying to carry ourselves and our grief through this crisis. There was a moment of recognition, of connection between us. These were interactions that made me feel less alone, supported by people I had only just met.

My only face to face contact is my husband and my weekly trip to the shop, so in person conversations outside my household are rare. We all expect that our closest friends and family would be there for us if we really needed them, but we don’t necessarily expect it of neighbours or acquaintances. Support from them feels like an unexpected act of kindness, a boost at a time when we need it most. These moments with neighbours made me feel less isolated in my own flat and my own personal grief.

I speak to my friends online, and sometimes it’s easier to have conversations about mental health that way, but when someone asked me to my face how I was doing, how I was really feeling, I felt seen. I could see someone who cared looking back at me, someone recognising how I was feeling and connecting with me. Sometimes all you need is someone to ask the right question at the right time to talk about how you’re really doing, and it can come from unexpected places. 

It’s more important than ever that we reach out to each other - to ask after each other, and to ask for help when we need it. We’re all going through some of the hardest times in our lives at the same time, and we all have to look after each other, and let ourselves be looked after as well. Let’s keep asking each other how we’re doing, and when this ends, let’s take conversations about our mental health and concern for each other into the new world on the other side of the crisis.

Now more than ever, we need to make time for each other. So, let’s get the nation talking over a cuppa and a bite to eat and have some fun with The Big Virtual Lunch on 6-7 June.

The Big Lunch is the UK’s annual thanksgiving weekend for neighbours and communities - this year it will be online, on the phone, or on your doorstep.  It's a time to celebrate community connections and get to know one another a little better over a cuppa and a bite to eat.

For those of you who have been to a Big Lunch before, things will need to be a little bit different this year, but community spirit is shining bright, and whether you are a first timer or an old hand, there are lots of ways you can join in. Find out more here.

*If you are concerned that you are developing a mental health problem you should seek the advice and support of your GP. If you are in distress and need immediate help and are unable to see a GP, you should visit your local A&E. The Mental Health Foundation has a list of mental health organisations that provide helplines.