As we approach the end of what feels like a different Mental Health Awareness Week. Normally, this would be an opportunity to think about the impact that mental health conditions have on our professional, social and personal lives and what we can do to support the most vulnerable in society.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic means these are anything but ordinary circumstances. Lockdown and social distancing measures have taken away many of the social interactions which are important in maintaining our wellbeing.
There is clear public support for the ‘stay at home’ message, and we must do all we can to comply with those restrictions and save lives, while remembering the impact of lockdown measures on people’s mental health will be most significant for those who are lonely, isolated and vulnerable. It is for this reason that Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 is especially meaningful.
So too, is Creativity and Wellbeing Week, which provides us with an opportunity to remind ourselves of the well-established link between engaging with the arts and maintaining emotional wellbeing.
Wales is at the forefront of this work, and while COVID-19 might have been a barrier to delivering these services, arts and health initiatives have risen to the challenge. Every week, we’re seeing heart-warming examples of how people are maintaining links with community-based arts initiatives, despite movement restrictions. This work is introducing many people to digital opportunities for the first time too.
As we finish week eight of lockdown, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future beyond COVID-19. Infection rates in Wales have reduced and stabilised, daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 are in steady decline, and the additional bed capacity has meant that our hospitals have not been overstretched.
The extraordinary efforts of members of the public, community groups, volunteer organisations and others has meant that many vulnerable people are already receiving services that are supporting them to stay active and healthy. A snapshot of this inspiring work is provided in our briefing, ‘Community spirit and resilience to support the response to COVID-19’.
One of the most common coping strategies for managing a mental health condition is to connect with friends and family. Lockdown measures mean that opportunities to do this are limited, but it’s so important that nobody feels they should have to face a mental health condition alone. Now more than ever, we need to use our own experiences to help each other and remind those who need it that help and support is always available – whether that be from the NHS, a third sector organisation or a loved one.
Maintaining the delivery of arts and health initiatives will be key in mitigating the indirect impact of COVID-19 not just as lockdown continues, but also as restrictions are eased. Until we get there, our message is clear: let’s be kind and compassionate, and let’s work together to achieve a healthier, brighter future for Wales.
Callum Hughes is Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the Welsh NHS Confederation