Covid, two lockdowns and continually changing restrictions have undoubtedly had an impact on virtually everyone’s mental health.
Social isolation, the uncertainty of income for business owners, and the worries of people who don’t know if they will keep their job are all very tough to manage.
The disruption to the education of school pupils should not be underestimated, with a whole generation missing out on two full years of uninterrupted study.
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Perhaps not fully yet understood is the negative impact the last two years have had on people’s mental health and especially the most vulnerable who suffer poor mental well-being.
Since lockdown restrictions began, charity Samaritans has had a ten per cent increase in people talking about loneliness and isolation. There is growing evidence that levels of loneliness have increased in general with young people the most likely to experience it.
In 2020, there were 805 probable suicides registered in Scotland, which represented a decrease from 833 in 2019. What is often not discussed is the fact that almost three times more men die by suicide than women. People in the most deprived areas are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from suicide compared to those from the least deprived areas. Inequalities that we have in Scotland mean that people in the most deprived areas are more likely to be exposed to risk factors for suicide.
Before Covid hit early in 2020, the narrative around talking about mental health was starting to change. People, particularly men, were starting to get used to the idea that they could talk about their own mental health and how they were feeling.
Samaritans asked men in Scotland how the pandemic affected their mental health as part of their Real People, Real Stories awareness campaign – 42 per cent said restrictions during lockdown had a negative impact on their mental health.
Throughout the pandemic we have seen numerous examples of adversity bringing out the best in people and looking out for each other more. Having relatives and friends, who wouldn’t normally talk about their mental health, be honest about how they are feeling when things are tough is definitely positive.
There is still much more progress that we can make as we begin 2022. It is important that mental health is everyone’s business in the upcoming year. Reaching out to people and letting them know that you are there to talk if they want to can make a huge difference to that person.
A week on Monday, 17 January, Samaritans are having their annual Brew Monday, reminding everyone to reach out and have a catch-up with people that they care about. The concept is simple but crucial, get talking to people and listen to what they have to say.
Feeling isolated is very harmful for a person’s mental health and nobody should feel like they have no one to turn to.
I unreservedly encourage Evening News readers to make the effort and reach out to someone they haven’t spoken to in a while and see if they would like to meet for a tea or coffee.
Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for Lothian