Limits on social gathering were a source of comfort for those living with anxiety and depression, but as curbs ease the familiar struggles return
While many people welcome the easing of restrictions and the greater opportunity to socialise, thousands of others across the country found life easier during lockdowns.
“If you have issues with anxiety and depression, which I have, this is a very difficult time,” Des Connolly (70) a retired furniture-maker from Clonsilla, Dublin, says.
“While most people are delighted things are going back to normal, that you can meet friends and family for dinner and can travel abroad again, for people with anxiety and depression, we don’t necessarily want to do these things.
“So during lockdowns it suited many people with anxiety and depression because we often want to be alone.
“Now things are opening up, it’s causing a lot of stress for people — I see it in people I know and I recognise it in myself.
“When my depression was a lot worse, years ago before I sought help, I cancelled many holidays at the last minute because I just couldn’t go through with it.”
Urging people to ask for help from people they know or organisations such as Aware, Mr Connolly says: “My message is that it’s OK not to be OK. And if you feel this way, reach out and talk to someone, be it your doctor, your family or friends, Aware. Just talk to someone. Because it can get better. I am living proof of that.”
Dr Claire Hayes is a consultant psychologist and clinical director at Aware, the organisation that supports people with mental health issues.
“Some people who experience anxiety and depression found it easier to cope with life during lockdowns because there were less social interactions, among other things,” she says.
“My experience with my clients during Covid is that overall people coped well. For people who experience depression, it is the case that they generally want fewer social interactions. And for people with anxiety, they often grapple with ‘what if’.
“But during Covid, the worst had actually happened, and many people found they were actually a lot more resilient than they realised.”
Dr Hayes says some Aware clients were struggling with the re-opening of society. “It is the case that for those with anxiety, the time we are in right now can trigger it because people can have natural concerns about getting Covid, among other things.
“With depression, this can be a difficult time as we try to re-engage more in society, when maybe you don’t want to. There is an expectation in our society that we are all supposed to feel happy and excited all the time. The reality is a lot of people don’t feel like that any of the time.”
While those who already sought help for a mental health difficulty before Covid, they mostly coped “better than they thought they would” during the pandemic. But a new cohort of people who hadn’t experienced anxiety or depression also emerged, Dr Hayes says.
“What we did see was an increase in people experiencing anxiety and depression for the first time. This should not be seen as a bad thing. I don’t see a difference between maintaining your mental health the same way as we maintain our physical health.
“There have been a lot of factors that caused problems for people during Covid, all the lives lost, jobs lost, and many other things that contributed to people seeking help. Covid impacted us all in very different ways.”
For Mr Connolly, who only sought help at age 60 for depression and anxiety, his life has been turned around since he addressed his issues.
“I’ve been in this world now for 70 years. But I’ve only really seen and enjoyed life for the past 10 years. That’s when I finally sought help for my depression and anxiety. I feel so lucky and glad I did,” he says.
He says society needs to be more “mindful” of those with mental health difficulties. “There are people right now, avoiding their families and friends and cancelling plans. Maybe this person is going through something. Maybe they need your help more than ever.”