This year mental health week feels more relevant than ever. As people across the world face isolation and anxiety due to Covid-19 we are seeing a rise in mental health problems. I feel incredibly fortunate to be living in a beautiful rural Suffolk village, with a lovely garden, and my cats and parents as company. Many of my friends are far less fortunate. Some are struggling in small city flats with no outdoor space. One friend had a break down as they could not cope with the lack of social interaction and routine exercise.
As I know from my own experience, regular exercise can be vital to maintaining mental health. Besides the obvious health benefits the routine that exercise brings for some, as well as the sense of having achieved something that day, can have a profound effect. Suddenly having this taken away can push people over the edge. The problem is though that depression is exhausting and often the last thing you want to do is exercise. Often you just feel you can’t. I remember the will power needed to go for my daily swim when I was at my worst (pre-Hashimoto’s diagnosis). I truly believe though that it was my regular swimming that pulled me through until I started getting the Hashimoto’s under control.
In these difficult times, and particularly for those struggling with mental health, technology can be a true blessing. Zoom and video chat means people living alone at least have some form of human contact, even if not in person. It also means people can still access healthcare professionals and counselling, even during lockdown. Technology means we can also check up on friends and family, be it a quick call or message, or sending that funny cat photo to cheer someone up.
There are also multiple self-help apps, like Woebot, that can provide support for those without access to a therapist. Given the rise in people suffering from mental health problems this number is likely to rise. This is a fantastic opportunity for AI apps to step in and fill the gap. In fact some people feel more comfortable talking to a bot than to a human being. The benefit of apps is also that patients have access 24/7 to support, not just when they have an appointment with a therapist.
Technology also offers solutions for those struggling with a break in exercise routines. I have been doing daily morning yoga for years now using YouTube but thanks to the current situation the teacher is now also offering live Zoom classes, which I love. Having a paid and scheduled class is what some, like my friend, need to get up and do the exercise. There are many fitness apps out there but we are now also seeing a huge growth in live online classes. Again this is fantastic and means more people have access to fitness classes, because they are no longer geographically restricted (my yoga teacher is in the US). I do hope that these classes remain once lockdown eases. They also are hugely beneficial for people struggling with anxiety who do not want to join an in-person group class but now still have access to live classes.
One thing though that technology cannot replace is human compassion. There is nothing like a physical hug when you are feeling low and sadly Zoom cannot help with that. However one thing that I have seen as a result of our current circumstances is an outpouring of compassion and acts of amazing generosity and support. It is this compassion that we all need to give but also receive. When we know of someone struggling with depression or anxiety one of the best things we can do is show compassion and just be there for them. So in this mental health week take the opportunity to reach out to friends and family and show that compassion. If you know someone struggling let them know you are there for them. Together we can be so much stronger and together we can support those suffering due mental health problems.