Stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts: How the pandemic has affected the mental health of people in Yorkshire

People from all walks of life in Yorkshire are suffering from serious mental health problems during the pandemic, some for the first time.
Matt Forth found being stuck at home during lockdown exacerbated feelings of anxiety and worry about the futureMatt Forth found being stuck at home during lockdown exacerbated feelings of anxiety and worry about the future
Matt Forth found being stuck at home during lockdown exacerbated feelings of anxiety and worry about the future

Matt Forth feels like he has lost a year of his life.

The 35-year-old from Pateley Bridge is one of many people who have struggled with their mental health this year, as a result of the pandemic and the numerous lockdowns the region has confronted.

Mr Forth suffered a bad bout of depression and anxiety this year, partly due to the pressures he had put himself under to make the most of lockdown. After pledging to get in shape and finish the final module of his university degree in product design, Mr Forth, like many people in the region, found himself unhappy and unmotivated.

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“I’ve broken all the promises I’ve made for myself in lockdown. It makes me feel like I’m a waste, like I’m wasting my life,” he said.

Mr Forth, who lives with his parents, has been unable to get out of the house most of this year due to self-isolating on behalf of his father who has a lung condition. On top of worrying about his safety and the safety of his family, he has been submerged in negative thoughts about a lack of progress in his life.

“What does the future hold? Will I always be single? Will there be a job for me? It just mounts up, especially when you’re stuck in four walls,” he added.

Millions of people in Yorkshire are likely suffering from poor mental health, as research from the Office for National Statistics released this week showed half of people in the first week of November reported that coronavirus had affected their wellbeing. More than a third of people also said they were suffering high levels of anxiety.

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Though anxiety and depression are extremely common mental health problems, stress can manifest itself in other ways, as Carla Kennedy found out.

The 31-year-old was furloughed and then made redundant from her job as a fashion designer at the start of the pandemic and found herself having intrusive thoughts about hurting herself and her family.

She said: “At my worst during lockdown, I hid anything I thought looked dangerous away. I couldn't eat anything with a knife and fork, so only ate things like dry toast or cereal. Sometimes a spoon felt too dangerous in my hands.

“I give myself rules to follow, I had to get dressed in an order or, if I didn't, I would do something awful. I couldn't look at my husband or cats anymore because I felt they were too vulnerable around me.”

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A doctor referred her for treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental health condition that she thinks she has had for a long time but only reached crisis levels under the stress of losing her job in lockdown.

She said: “I never looked into it, I suppose because I didn’t want to be a ‘crazy person’. But when I finally read about the condition I broke down crying.”

She is now part of an online peer support group run by mental health charity Leeds Mind, where people share their own experience and learn from each other.

She added: “I was uncomfortable talking about my mental health but I’ve benefited so much from it. I wouldn’t have believed it before.”

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Talking is not always an option at the moment, as face-to-face therapy and counselling sessions have moved online but many people are in living arrangements that do not afford them the privacy to talk freely at home.

Writer Shahed Ezaydi has seen her mental health plummet, suffering panic attacks over small things that would never have previously bothered her like receiving too many emails at once or the WiFi cutting out.

The 26-year-old said: “I didn't have access to therapy but I also didn't have access to some of my normal coping mechanisms like going to see a friend, as most of my friends live in other cities.”

Working from her bedroom in Sheffield has also meant a lack of separation between work and home, which has exacerbated her anxiety.

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She said: “I felt a bit like I was drowning in my own life and I couldn't breathe. But I couldn't do anything to change it because I just had no energy or motivation to do anything.

“It's affected my ability to work and sleep. I didn't talk to friends for a little while because I couldn't bear looking at my phone anymore.

“I think the lowest I felt was feeling like nobody really understood and like there was no way out and I'd be this way forever.”

After having days where she could not get out of bed, she is concerned that an extended lockdown could increase to the point where she is unable to work or interact with other people.

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It is a similar story for Sophia Waterfield, 31, who had been excelling at work, spending time with family and looking forward to a holiday at the start of the year but struggled to cope when all that disappeared in the first lockdown.

She said: "I was stuck at home with a toddler and trying to work, which started to prove impossible."

As a single parent she was forced to turn down work in order to look after her 18-month-old son.

She said: "I had savings from the previous months income, and that was spent within two months on rent and bills. I live in a town in North Yorkshire, so the only things we could really do together (me and my son) was shopping at the supermarket and visit the park. I think referring to trips to the supermarket as our trips out really hit home to me how much our lives had changed in such a short space of time.

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"The lowest I've felt has been brief moments of suicidal thoughts. Not in the sense that I've wanted to hurt myself, but that I just wanted to go to sleep and not deal with everything. But those moments were fleeting and it was a symptom of being inside and constantly having to clean after two dogs and a toddler, without having a break.

"I did also become quite anxious and I think that gets worse when you're the only adult in a house."

Ms Waterfield was thankful for the support from others, especially strangers.

She said: "People have been amazing to me on a personal level during the pandemic. The People's Pantry in Market Weighton, food bank, have really looked after us when we've been unable to go to the supermarket for food, someone gifted us a cake they had baked and people have been sending us gifts from our wish list. For all the inadequate support we've received from the Government, people's kindness has really shone through."

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For those who have a long history of mental health problems, lockdown often meant a setback to an otherwise good recovery.

The start of the pandemic triggered excessive worry and paranoia for Samantha Davis from Edlington, Doncaster.

The 30 year-old is currently being treated in Tickhill Road Hospital after being detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act in September.

This is her second period of hospitalisation this year, after entering hospital in April and spending three months there voluntarily to help with suicidal thoughts and making what she described as “extensive plans” to end her life.

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She said: “I was self-harming on a daily basis and my thoughts were very dark, I felt alone, unlovable, unwanted and I believed that if I were no longer here it would be much better for the people who care about me.”

Though Ms Davis has had a dozen hospitalisations since her late teens for similar issues, there was a real risk to her life on this occasion.

She said: “I think Covid very nearly killed me, without ever actually entering my lungs.

“I believe that if Covid never came, I would be living my life as is normal for me right now, at home, spending time with others and not isolating out of fear of catching the virus, but instead my life is on hold, as I believe are many other lives out there right now, and it makes me sad for what 2020 could have been, and what it turned out to be.”

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