Many of the people we spoke to who had been suicidal or self-harmed during the pandemic told us that coronavirus had impacted on their mental health in a variety of ways.
Several people spoke about the fact that their own and others’ mental health had deteriorated. Many had existing mental health conditions which had been exacerbated because of the pandemic.
I’ve found it very difficult. I’ve always struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember but the past year has been particularly difficult. I find myself worrying about things constantly.
As a result of this, people spoke about having a greater need for support, though this support was largely felt to be unavailable and inaccessible because of the pandemic. Tara felt that getting the right mental health care before the pandemic had been difficult and that the support she’d received after she’d made a suicide attempt was “really lacking” due to funding. However, she felt that the pandemic had now made things even worse and she was unable to access support when she was having suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.
Before COVID, it was really hard to get the right mental health support that was needed and I think during COVID, it just basically made that impossible.
However, for some people, their mental health support had continued or increased throughout the pandemic, possibly through private support.
Due to the lack of support available to people, people spoke about both an increased reliance on medication but also wanting to support their own and others’ mental health.
I actually started my own mental health initiative as well, to raise awareness about mental health… So, it started in the pandemic so in May 2020 I founded my initiative so I've been doing a lot of work around that.
Ruby told us that the more isolated lifestyle has been beneficial when supporting her own mental health, “If I spend a week just hammering into my mental health and working on it, I need to take the week off, I can do that because I'm not going to get phone calls going, 'Oh, can I come down for a cup of tea?’".
Among people we spoke to there was a feeling that their previous mental health problems or traumas had made it easier, in some ways, for them to cope with the pandemic. This was due to them having pre-existing toolkits to help with distress as well as knowledge of support networks. On the other hand, Gabi felt that those who were experiencing mental health problems for the first time during the pandemic might find it more difficult to know where to turn to for support or what self-care techniques might work.
I suppose I knew, ‘I feel absolutely lousy now, but this can get better.' But somebody who has never experienced that, I would say it would be a very big shocker.
Ruby felt that the trauma of losing her daughter to suicide meant that she had built enough resilience to not be too affected by the pandemic, “It's a perverse, kind of, resilience and empowerment that comes from losing a child. So, it's like, after that, you've been hurt so bad. There's not a lot that can touch you after that.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.