A-Z

Covid-19 in the community

Emotional and mental health impacts of Covid and the pandemic

In this section, we discuss the ways that people we spoke to felt the pandemic had affected their mental health and wellbeing. Most people said that the pandemic significantly impacted their mental health, though some also reflected on positive experiences during the pandemic. This page discusses:

  • New worries, anxiety and depression
  • Worrying about children and older relatives 
  • Losing loved ones
  • Being isolated, alone and without social interaction 
  • Managing anxieties 
  • Bringing family together
  • Messages for others with pandemic anxieties 

 
New worries, anxiety, and depression

Most people we spoke to felt their mental and emotional wellbeing got worse during the pandemic. Sunita felt that Covid made her feel ‘more anxious and fearful.’ Mr Ehsaan said that he was “too scared to even touch a door handle,” and Irene said that she was “scared out of her skin.” Dawn, a teacher, was anxious about catching Covid because “working in that environment, feel like you are surrounded because you’re in such close contact all the time that you always think you’ve got Covid.” Some people were diagnosed with anxiety and depression, including Beth. She said that even as restrictions eased, she still had anxiety about catching Covid.

 

Beth describes being diagnosed with depression during the pandemic.

Beth describes being diagnosed with depression during the pandemic.

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But yeah it’s very difficult and then to come out of it the other side and think it’s over, but then you, it’s over, there’s no more Covid, you know there’s no Covid, but your mental health is very affected, is very affected by it so much like, I’ve been through so much in the last year that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do. You know I’ve come, I’ve recently been diagnosed with depression. My anxiety levels are really high at the minute because even though it’s gone, even though we are allowed to do things, normal things now within reason, it’s still very hard to go out and think “well you know, somebody, I could still catch it”.

 


 
Stories of people dying were particularly impactful. Rabbi Wollenberg spoke about how he became aware of his own mortality.
 
 

Rabbi Wollenberg describes how he suddenly felt afraid of dying.

Rabbi Wollenberg describes how he suddenly felt afraid of dying.

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I think it hit me about halfway through my period of confinement, that this is a disease that many people are dying from. And I felt very mortal, is that the word, what do they call it? Confronting your mortality, which has all kinds of both psychological and religious implications. I think it’s probably one of the few times in my life I’ve really felt quite afraid. I only told my wife this afterwards, but I contacted my sister and said, you know, in case you ever need it, here’s where my life insurance policies are. So, I was really like, because I thought, you know we’re hearing of people who are dying from Covid who are young and healthy so thank, thankfully that wasn’t the case and I bounced back from it.


 
The news increased these anxieties for many people, including Emdad, Doreen and Matt. Emdad remembered “frightening news that twenty thousand people affected... we try to like get out from the shock.” People we spoke to were worried that their loved ones could become a part of these statistics.
 
 

Paul Z says that seeing the news of people dying caused a lot of worry.

Paul Z says that seeing the news of people dying caused a lot of worry.

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And you know, what we were aware was the awful things that were happening to other people really at that point, you know, the disease, the hospitalisations, the, people in ICU and the news was very full of individual stories of people either suffering a lot or having lost loved ones or people dying, you know, there was an awful lot of that during that and that was very difficult and hard to take.

 

Worrying about children and older relatives

Many people we spoke to said they were not worried about themselves, but about their family members. Parents felt that their children were lonely because they were not spending time with their school friends during periods of school closure. Others were worried that their children were falling behind in their schooling. This was particularly evident among parents who had children taking GCSE’s and A-Levels.

 

Sindhu worried about her children not seeing their friends during the pandemic.

Sindhu worried about her children not seeing their friends during the pandemic.

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You know having the kids stay at home they need I think you think about unfairness of it. You know they’re at home, they can’t see their friends they are… I am not about the education bit of it, part of it at all, they are kids. At least that’s my take on it. They are sponges, they will just take it up. Well the whole world is going through it. So I am not worried or tense about how it’s going to affect their education but I am more worried about that they don’t see their friends, you know they need that kind of you know social interaction.

 

Milembe felt that her children were getting behind with their schooling.

Milembe felt that her children were getting behind with their schooling.

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As a parent I was worried about the children being so behind so much so for my older son who is on his final year of secondary school, he’s doing GCSEs this year. So not only that he was struggling with, with the focus with work, he’s so behind in performance-wise, also his emotions, emotions were at the high end so I was worried about what was going to happen for him.


 
Some people were worried about older relatives and were aware of their risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid. This worry was escalated by the fact that they could not see these relatives.
 
 

Iqra was concerned that her mother could catch Covid from the supermarket.

Iqra was concerned that her mother could catch Covid from the supermarket.

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So I was just worried for my mum because I knew she was out going but the only excuse she had to go out was to the supermarket. We knew she would wear her mask and that. We just used to be scared like we don’t know, we know about our family but the other people at the supermarket, how do we not know that they’re sick or if they’re not sick.

 

Losing loved ones

Some people we spoke to lost loved ones unexpectedly to Covid. Jessica, a respiratory doctor, spoke about how it was “punishing” to tell people that their loved one had died due to Covid. Robert, explained that “we had a lot of patients that died from Covid as well and that was very sad, sad moments because these were people that we knew and worked with for years.”
 
Experiences of death and dying were different because most people were unable to be around their loved ones as they died. People had spread the word about relatives dying via text of phone, rather than face-to-face. People did not have access to their usual support networks like their extended family and friends. Funeral arrangements were particularly difficult because of the limitations on the number of people who could attend. Gulsoom speaks about how difficult it was for her when her father died from Covid.
 

 

Gulsoom said she felt alone after her father died from Covid.

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Gulsoom said she felt alone after her father died from Covid.

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You were literally dying inside and no one could hold your hand as, they’re telling you, “I’m sorry.” You know, as we rushed in the hospital and they sat me in that room, “I’m so sorry, you know. Your dad has gone.” You know, I couldn’t go to anyone for a hug, you know. I was broken but who was there to comfort me? No one. My mother wasn’t there to comfort me. My siblings weren’t there to comfort me. My friends weren’t there to comfort me. I was alone grieving, in pain and I had to just grieve by myself.

 

Aytana found it sad when she couldn’t pay her respects at a neighbour’s funeral.

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Aytana found it sad when she couldn’t pay her respects at a neighbour’s funeral.

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There was a death on our road as well. It was one of the neighbours and she was quite elderly and it was really, really sad because we knew them for a long time but. It’s like we couldn’t even go to them. It’s just people came outside their doors, and they literally saw a car take the coffin and just go and like we couldn’t even go to them properly to pay our respects or see them because there was that fear of like social distancing and you had to keep your distance.

 

Being isolated, alone, and without social interaction 

People we spoke to had particularly difficult experiences during periods of lockdown where social interaction was severely limited. Some people we spoke to felt sad about the withdrawal of physical contact. As Sunita explained, “you just want to be able to hug a person.” People generally missed their pre-pandemic life of being able to exercise, see friends and family and go to social events. In the following clip, Doreen describes how she felt trapped indoors during the pandemic.

 

 

Doreen says that she felt trapped and wanted to return to her pre-pandemic life.

Doreen says that she felt trapped and wanted to return to her pre-pandemic life.

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I’m used to going on holiday every year, I’m used to going to London, I’m used to this time we’d normally, we’d have gone to London and do the theatres and the show. I’ve been really happy walking around Oxford Circus and all those places and you know but, I’m not doing any of that you know. I’m just not doing any of that. It felt like I’ve, I felt like I’ve sat in my house for 18 months.


 
For people with family in other countries, not being able to travel for holiday or to visit family was upsetting. Mudasar wished he could visit his family in Pakistan and Emdad found not being able to see his family in Bangladesh difficult. Sarita explains her sadness when she could not visit her family in India.
 
 

Sarita says she felt like a carpet had been pulled from under her feet when she was told she could not visit her family in India.

Sarita says she felt like a carpet had been pulled from under her feet when she was told she could not visit her family in India.

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I mean I think for almost a couple of weeks after lockdown we were I wouldn’t say like a depression now that would be very… very, very harsh but you know we were very down because we were really looking forward to going to India to the point where we had booked the, we had booked the venue and you do, do everything for the ritual and then… you know, just to be, it felt just like the carpet had been pulled from under your feet and then you know a week before you are supposed to fly and then the lockdown hits you.


 
Some people also spoke about missing interacting with people in their faith networks. However, for some people online faith activities helped manage this anxiety. 

Managing anxieties

People mentioned several ways in which they managed their feelings of distress and tried to improve their mental health during the pandemic. This included:

  • Focusing on what could be controlled
  • Distraction and joy
  • Imagining new possibilities
  • Increasing exercise
  • Helping others
  • Connecting with faith 

 

 

Emdad distracted himself from his anxieties by watching movies instead of the news.

Emdad distracted himself from his anxieties by watching movies instead of the news.

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Yeah, that’s how that’s how we’re passing time, some time we have movie time. We see like the movie on YouTube, “what do you want to watch?” Then we do altogether. Switch off light, night time, movie time, just like we have to pass our time otherwise how the day and night is the same. We can’t go out. Just by the alarm, you see the morning and then it’s by the dark you see the night.


 
Even though she couldn’t go to the gym, Irene found that walking after work helped and was pleased when the gyms reopened. Mr. Eshaan also felt that keeping active was important to ‘break the cycle’ of anxiety. Some people felt that they could manage their anxieties by helping neighbours and family members with grocery shopping or just being around to listen to their concerns.
 
 

Dawn found that helping others made her feel better.

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Dawn found that helping others made her feel better.

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I find that the way we cope in our family is by giving and it seems a little bit odd but I think the more you give, the better you feel. So I think, as a family unit, we are all giving people. So we always, even if it’s time that we could give to somebody and just listen to them, it’s a massive thing but it’s okay staying safe and it’s okay making sure that you do the sensible thing and keeping your distance and keeping, you know, your hygiene with your hand sanitising and masks but I think you’ve got to keep yourself mentally as well knowing that you are impacting on somebody else, who might be completely on your own.


 
Faith was important to lots of people we spoke to. Tony, a Christian, trusted that God “won't give you more than you can bear.” Razia, a Muslim, found prayer and meditation helpful. Similarly, Iqra found that prayer helped her shut out the outside world.
 
 

Iqra described how praying gave her peace.

Iqra described how praying gave her peace.

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I was just at so much peace. I had no outside world stress. I was just praying, doing what I was meant to do. When you are doing what God tells you what you’re meant to do, my face literally used to glow and I used to have shiny eyes and everything. I was just glowing with happiness.

 

Tun’s faith helped him to recover a positive outlook on life.

Tun’s faith helped him to recover a positive outlook on life.

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So I think it does help, you know, faith does help to for you to, you know, try and recover for it to have a positive outlook in life and otherwise if yeah then it’s just a bit more difficult because I think faith makes you understand why things happen and you just have to be strong and get on with life.

 
Bringing family together

The pandemic was a very difficult time for all the people we spoke to. However, some people did report some things that were positive for their mental health. This included spending more time with household members. For example, Aytana said that she was grateful to be at home, taking care of her parents. Kashif said that the good thing about the pandemic was that he had more time to spend with his children. Sarita said that she had fun going for walks and sitting in her garden with her family. Susanne said that her family made new traditions during the pandemic including ‘international food day’ once per week. 

 

 

Susanne says that her family started new traditions during the pandemic including international food day.

Susanne says that her family started new traditions during the pandemic including international food day.

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We made the whole experience of lockdown as positive as it could be by making sure that, you know, we went, first lockdown we went out on bike rides every day. You know, food became really important; we all did our, all shared the cooking, we did a sort of international day once, once a week where we sort of spun the globe, chose the food and then cooked from it, you know, so we sort of started some family traditions which we wouldn’t have done otherwise. So I see that as being kind of quite positive overall.

 
Messages for others with pandemic anxieties

The people we spoke to shared messages for others with pandemic related anxieties. Beth said “don’t face it alone. There are people out there that can help... There’s counsellors and the GPs can really help you.” Ahmed encouraged people to keep in touch with their support networks via text, phone, and online meeting platforms. As he puts it, “anything to keep yourself in a good frame of mind, because I do think that you start to recover a lot better when you’re thinking a lot more positively.”

 

 

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