The mental health toll of the Covid-19 pandemic

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

Mental health has been in the news a lot of late – not least because of people suffering from loneliness and isolation during the long-running COVID crisis.

It has come to the fore again in the last few days. American gymnast, Simone Biles, became the latest in a long line of athletes who have dropped out of major competitions because of the stress.

It was also announced at the weekend that test cricketer, Ben Stokes was going to take an indefinite break from sport ‘to prioritise his mental wellbeing.’

Mental health issues are not something we have really associated with people that are physically at the top of their game, but then again, many of us were untroubled by mental health issues before COVID struck.

But it has always been in the background and mental health support services were already in crisis when the pandemic struck nearly 17 months ago. Now, it would not be an exaggeration to say that they are overwhelmed.

The Torbay Community Helpline takes calls from people needing support daily, and since we set up the triage service, we have been able to refer more than 860 people.

Some need specialist befrienders to talk through their issues, others need acute expert help, and we can refer them to the right people who are on call to help them.

So many were surprised by their feelings as the crisis deepened with some finding that they were no longer able to cope. And it affects people in a variety of ways – few can honestly say they have not had bad days during this crisis.

And we expect there to be more – not least because the subject is no longer taboo, thank goodness, but the pandemic has meant more people are aware of their own and other people’s mental health than ever before.

Mental health issues can strike at any time, without warning, but 17 months of being isolated, with routines disrupted, is forced to take its toll.

We also have to face up to the fact that for some coming out of lockdown will be as difficult as going into it for the first time in March 2020.

In much the same way as it took us time to find ways of coping during lockdown, we should also expect that it will take time to find our way back and to reconnect with life. Things may not be the same as they were before.

Taking those first steps out of lockdown can be very stressful and experiencing  fear and anxiety is not in the least bit unusual and it will take time for a lot of us to adjust to the new ‘normal.’

We may have become comfortable in our own space and with our own company in lockdown – it’s been intense in all sorts of ways and we might really have to push ourselves to reconnect with people and overcome initial awkwardness.

Whether it’s feeling uncomfortable not wearing a mask anymore, or feeling odd to mix in large groups again, take things at your own pace. Even if government advice is to no longer socially distance or wear a mask, you must decide

The mental Health Foundation’s website has some great tips to cope with coming out of lockdown, starting with controlling what can be controlled, pacing yourself, building up a tolerance and varying your routines.

They also recommend that to cope with the uncertainty you focus on the present – deal with what you have today and bring things that are certain back into focus by appreciating good things as they happen.

Finally, they urge people to talk to people they trust about how they are feeling. Don’t judge yourself too harshly and do not dismiss your concerns. Or put another way, give yourself a break.

And never think you are alone, you are not and if you haven’t got anyone to talk to and need someone, then reach for the phone and call the Torbay Community Helpline on 01803 446022 or use the online form –

You will not be first, and our call handlers are there for you. If they can’t help you there and then, they will find someone who can. We can find you a specialist befriender or refer you to another service. We will short it.

We have come a long way in this crisis together and we still need each other. It is not over yet.