Help is there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

The Samaritans are available and have been throughout the pandemic 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

The Samaritans are available and have been throughout the pandemic 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - Credit: Submitted

So, here we are back in lockdown. It is irritating, frustrating but essential.

Sadly, this dreadful disease will not go away if we pretend it doesn’t exist. But is the isolation causing mental illness?

I’m always cautious about labelling anything as an illness. Being lonely and unhappy when confined to the house is not an illness, it is normal. Emotions are healthy. 

If our hunter gatherer ancestors were never afraid or anxious when facing a sabre-toothed tiger, we would have been extinct many years ago.

During the first lockdown in a survey of more than 2,000 adults in the UK almost a quarter felt lonely. 

Many of the calls to the Samaritans said: “Yours is the only voice I’ve heard today.”

This was even worse for young people. Among 19 year olds, one in three women and one in four men developed symptoms of depression. And almost 70 per cent of young people said that their mental health had deteriorated.

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But it was not only young people. According to research by the University of Glasgow working with the Samaritans, the number of people experiencing suicidal thoughts rose from eight per cent to ten per cent. 

Anyone who already had a mental health diagnosis was three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

We must not forget my colleagues working in intensive care units throughout this pandemic.

A recent study based on 709 questionnaires across six hospitals in June and July 2020 found that nearly half - 45 per cent - had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression and anxiety.

One in seven doctors and one in five nurses had thought about self-harm or suicide.

People choose a career in medicine or nursing because they want to help others. Seeing a stream of very ill patients, some of which will not survive, is highly stressful.

So how can we help ourselves?  There is good evidence that physical exercise helps, triggering the release of the natural chemicals, 'endorphins'.

These affect the brain in the same way as morphine and gives us a sense of euphoria.

In effect we give ourselves a shot of morphine to cope without the dangers of using an addictive drug. And exercise is a good alternative to the bottle.

The Government guidelines state 'you can only leave your home to exercise and not for the purposes of recreation or leisure'.

This could mean it’s ok to exercise as long as you don’t enjoy it but there’s no need to hide your smile from the police. 

When trying to encourage exercise perhaps I should not mention that endorphins are also released by listening to music or even eating chocolate, both of which are allowed under the lockdown rules.

Humans are sociable animals. From our early hunter gatherer days, we live in groups. 

We see this when watching our nearest cousins in Paignton Zoo, the orangutans and gorillas.

It seems to be in our DNA. Today, we cannot meet each other or even stand less than two metres away but we have a great advantage over previous generations: The Internet.

Regular meetings online are not the same as meeting in person but far better than never meeting at all.

And there is help. The Samaritans are available and have been throughout the pandemic 24 hours a day, 365 days a year despite 40 per cent of the volunteers in South Devon having to self-isolate at the beginning of the first lockdown.

There are more than 100 volunteers covering the Torquay centre in Warren Road.

Nationally the Samaritans respond to 500 calls every hour. And since the beginning of this crisis nearly all the callers have mentioned Covid. These calls are often in the middle of the night.

Becoming upset in a stressful situation need not become an illness. Help is out there and admitting you need help is a sign of strength not weakness. 

Help is available from numerous helplines, your GP and the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Do not apologise for being human.