Coronavirus: Government releases official advice to protect your mental health

A chinese man sitting down on the street helpless and stressed from a bad contagious disease spreading in the city. Corona virus.
The coronavirus is making many feel anxious, frustrated and lonely. (Getty Images)

The government has released official advice to help people protect their mental health during the coronavirus “lockdown”.

Boris Johnson has introduced draconian enforcements that only permit people to leave their home for “very limited purposes”, like “shopping for basic necessities as infrequently as possible”.

Anyone showing the tell-tale fever or cough has been told to self-isolate entirely for seven days, while the rest of their household must do so for two weeks.

One-and-a-half million of the most vulnerable Britons, like those with severe asthma or blood cancer, have been told to stay in their homes for the next three months.

While officials are optimistic this will stem the outbreak, the government’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries warned it may be up to six months before life is totally back to normal.

Experts have largely welcomed the mental-health advice, however, some worry it does not go far enough, with one saying the recommendations are “largely geared at the middle class”.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 30, 2020: A passenger wears a face mask on the Moscow Metro. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a week off work from 28 March to 5 April 2020 and urged people to stay home to curb the spread of the coronavirus infection. From 30 March 2020, the Moscow government has imposed home isolation for all Moscow residents, regardless of their age. Sergei Fadeichev/TASS (Photo by Sergei Fadeichev\TASS via Getty Images)
A passenger wears a mask on the Moscow Metro on 30 March. (Getty Images)

The coronavirus is thought to have emerged at a seafood and live animal market in the Chinese city Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, at the end of last year.

Since the outbreak was identified, over 732,100 cases have been confirmed across more than 170 countries on every inhabited continent, according to John Hopkins University.

Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice

Live: Follow all the latest updates from the UK and around the world

Fact-checker: The number of COVID-19 cases in your local area

Explained: Symptoms, latest advice and how it compares to the flu

More than 154,600 patients are reported to have “recovered”.

Cases have been plateauing in China since the end of February, with the US and Europe now considered the worst-hit areas.

The UK has had more than 19,700 confirmed cases and 1,228 deaths.

Globally, the death toll has exceeded 34,800.

Coronavirus: the government’s advice on protecting your mental health

Being stuck inside for most of the day will undoubtably leave many feeling bored, frustrated and lonely.

With the pandemic being unprecedented, and no one knowing for sure how it will play out, some may feel worried, anxious or even depressed by the situation.

“Everyone reacts differently to events and changes in the way that we think, feel and behave vary between different people and over time,” according to the government.

“It’s important you take care of your mind as well as your body”.

How to protect your mental health and wellbeing:

  • Continue to connect with others: some experts prefer the term “physical distancing” to “social distancing”. In the age of technology, it is easier than ever to stay in touch with loved ones via phone calls, video messages or social media

  • Reach out to those you suspect are struggling: message people who could do with a helping hand or hearing a friendly voice

  • A problem shared is a problem halved: don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Confide in a loved one or call a mental-health helpline like the Samaritans on 116 123

  • Acknowledge how you are feeling: recognise you feel anxious, lonely or confused. While we all have a part to play in stemming this outbreak, remember there is only so much you as an individual can do

  • Look after your physical health: challenging times can make people turn to alcohol or cigarettes. Rather than falling into unhealthy habits, which may persist once the outbreak is over, try and make healthy meals from scratch. Avoid smoking or excess alcohol, drink plenty of water, and try and get a good night’s sleep. With the enforcements allowing us out to exercise, take the opportunity to go for a walk, jog or cycle

  • Get plenty of sleep: it may be easier said than done, but try and get the recommended seven-to-nine hours of shut eye a night. Cutting down on caffeine, ensuring your bed is comfortable and reading a relaxing book before you turn in are all easy ways to improve “sleep hygiene”

  • Manage where you get your information from: if scrolling social media or watching breaking news makes your emotions worse, try and limit these activities to set times of the day

  • Plan a routine: life likely seems very different to just a few weeks ago, however, you can keep busy within your home by reading a book that has been on your “list” or trying a complicated recipe

  • Set goals: many may feel without a sense of purpose. Set goals, like learning a language online, and congratulate your success

  • Keep your mind active: try painting, completing a crossword or doing a jigsaw

  • Focus on the present: take it one day at time and try not to worry too much about how it may all play out. Mindfulness and meditation may help

  • Get outside if you can: very few of us are “housebound” during this. Take advantage of the time allowed for exercise. Sit in the garden, if you have one, or open your windows and bring nature in by buying some plants

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 30: A nurse is seen carrying material while installing a campaign hospital that will admit 50 beds, helping to alleviate pressure on the Hospital of Fuenlabrada in the fight against coronavirus and will directly connect to the Oncology section on March 30, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Eduardo Parra/Europa Press via Getty Images)
A nurse is pictured in a makeshift hospital in Madrid on 30 March. (Getty Images)

Some people ‘may not find relief with these suggestions’

Experts have praised the guidance from the government, however, some worry it will not help everyone.

“I am excited to see a clear focus on mental health during these turbulent times, and many people will take solace and support from what is on offer,” said Dr Rochelle Burgess from University College London.

“My concern is much of this advice is largely geared at, for lack of a better descriptor, the middle class.

“As it stands, it doesn’t do enough to think about the sections of society that will be pushed further into hardship and difficult circumstances, and how their mental health and wellbeing are impacted by these times.”

Dr Burgess worries about those dependent on food banks or victims of domestic violence.

“People whose anxieties are increased by these real situations may not find relief with these suggestions,” she said.

Professor Sonia Johnson from University College London is particularly concerned for people with pre-existing mental-health issues, as well as autistic patients and those with intellectual disabilities.

“People with mental health problems are also on average less digitally well-connected than others and already more susceptible to loneliness”, she said.

One expert worries for the mental wellbeing of children and teenagers.

“Young people’s brains are still developing and they may be less able to control emotional responses,” said Professor Andrea Danese from King’s College London.

“They may look at their parents for reassurance and guidance, and may become distressed in seeing that their parents, too, are worried.

“They may struggle more to make sense of the alarm and the sometimes conflicting messages in the news.

“They have not been able to engage in many normative experiences, such as education and socialisation with peers.

“They may get bored and upset about restriction to their activities and distancing from their peers.”

Experts have previously given guidance on how to explain the coronavirus to children, as well as advice for keeping them entertained.

The coronavirus, colds and flu all commonly cause fever. (Yahoo UK)

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus mainly spreads face-to-face via infected droplets coughed or sneezed out by a patient.

There is also evidence it can be transmitted in faeces and urine and survive on surfaces.

Symptoms tend to be flu-like, including fever, cough and slight breathlessness.

Early research suggests four out of five cases are mild.

In severe incidences, pneumonia may come about if the infection spreads to the air sacs in the lungs, causing them to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.

The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream and a build-up of carbon dioxide.

The coronavirus has no “set” treatment, with most patients naturally fighting off the infection.

Those requiring hospitalisation are offered “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.

Officials urge people ward off the infection by washing their hands regularly and maintaining social distancing.