Something's Gotta Give

August 2021

Where’s the media coverage on the actual impact that all these lockdowns and restrictions have on mental health? I’m not asking this to discount the actual virus – I’m asking because it seems to be the silent killer that no one wants to discuss, but it needs to be.

Let’s start with the basics and set the scene.

We all deal with obstacles and challenges in our lives, in different ways. Some prefer to express it in words or actions, and others choose to internalise it. Some charge head on and try breaking down the problem and others will get overwhelmed straight away before calming down and being able to look at the challenge in a logical way. Some just try avoiding it.

However, how we approach and handle these situations is also dependent on how much other things we have going on at the same time, and how close we are to our breaking point. For instance, if you’re already running late for work, have a button pop off your clothing, accidentally step in a puddle that dirties your shoes and legs, bump into someone who spills some of their coffee on you, and then someone asks you to run and submit a report within the next half hour, you will likely crack and have an outburst at the last request. It’s not a matter of the last request being completely unreasonable, but more a matter of it being unreasonable given everything else going on.

The same goes for our mental health. There are a lot of things that you could carry around with you in any one day, but sooner or later, you’re going to need to put something down before you can pick up the next thing. On top of all of this, many of us will have things that we’ve been carrying around for years (such as unhealed trauma) that will prevent us from being able to carry as many things as the next person, even though on the surface, everything looks the same.

And here lies our problem. It is assumed that everyone will be okay with lockdowns and restrictions imposed. A blanket approach method, where what works for one person will work for everyone else. Usually, the “one person” that it’s based on, is the person who makes the decision about the generalised approach. That is, if they’re okay with it, then so should everyone else; Sure, there might be an exception here or there, but “it’ll be fine” overall. Wrong. It’s not fine.

Our mental health should never be underestimated or dulled in its importance. Our minds have the ability to manifest symptoms that are visible in our body, so that we take note of what’s going on and at the very least, stop and pay attention. It may appear as an ache, a rash, a pinch, etc. Sometimes the answer to our physical ailment is to simply rest, which I would interpret as your mind’s way of telling you that you’ve reached a limit and you now need a break before continuing.

So let’s go back to having restrictions imposed on us, especially in a lockdown situation. I think it goes without saying that some of us are okay with this and some of us aren’t. We all have better days than others, and whilst it’s understood why these restrictions are in place, it’s also incredibly frustrating.

I’m going to use the example of a school aged child because they’re one of the groups that I’m worried about the most.

Where I am, it’s been remote learning for kids, which means doing all your classwork online. For high school students it means logging in and joining each class throughout your day as the teacher goes through the lesson. It’s pretty much the same as it would be at school, except everything is online. The problem though, seems to be that there are some teachers who don’t understand the technology that they’re using and they’re getting cranky at the kids, when it’s usually a technology limitation or an end user issue. Basic stuff, because it’s assumed that the teachers will know these things, when in actual fact, most don’t and there doesn’t seem to be any training for it. And then there’s the work overload that’s being handed out to the students. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of teachers not talking to each other so that they know what the overall workload is for any student, or if teachers are concerned about the students learning enough so they pack on the assignments and homework to compensate. Maybe it’s a mixture of both, but it seems to be a trend with all the students and parents that I’ve spoken to. And no, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you tell the teachers that there’s too much work being given; It doesn’t change.

So for this situation, I see several issues. I see high school kids trying to cope with the volume of online learning plus the tasks assigned to them, in any given day or week. I see many trying to juggle that in households where they may not have the privacy or space to do their work, or where they’re just not as good with remote learning as compared to in-class learning. Then there’s the social disconnect that’s being felt, at a time when being with friends and understanding who you are as you grow and change, is really important. Add to this the pressure of having to perform their best in all assignments, so that they’re not jeopardising their future, which they’re constantly reminded about. Not to mention the continual changes to how to administer tests in these circumstances. As you can see, it’s not one thing that’s the problem, but a series of little things that amount to big things and depending on how any one teenage student can cope, determines how well they’re doing right now. Oh, and multiply the pressure by a hundred for those HSC students.

On top of all of this, you have teachers and parents who tell the teens to go outside and make sure you get some exercise. Ah, when exactly would you like them to fit this in?

As another example, lets look at the younger students. My heart goes out to the students and the parents of the students, who have just started school and are now at home, where it’s quickly gone from the excitement of starting school to going back to playing at home and having the pressure on the parents to ensure that they learn what they’re supposed to. And don’t tell me that you expect someone in Kindergarten or Year 1 to just sit in front of a tablet or computer, and absorb everything that’s said or shown to them. Or for the slightly older ones, giving them a worksheet, not really explaining the tasks, but then expecting them to do it all without assistance… having the teachers say that they’re not expecting the parents to be able to sit and explain everything, but still not providing enough online or face-to-face help, to enable the kids to learn. But then having the schools say that they understand that primary school children can’t just sit in front of a screen all day, that they understand that not everyone is coping and that the kids should just “do what they can”, whilst still expecting them to get everything done without exception.

The pressure on children and parents to keep everything going as it usually would, if we weren’t in these circumstances is ridiculous to expect. You can’t have it all. Something has to give and it shouldn’t be about exceptions but rather a lower baseline setting across the board, and then just slowly raise the bar to accommodate those who can take on more.

So my concern is for all the students and their parents, who aren’t okay with everything that’s expected of them right now. I’m worried about their mental health of trying to keep up and the damage that it’s causing. Of what they’re feeling when they’re told to “let us know if there are any issues”, only to receive no help or real assistance when they raise the alarm. I’m worried about the mental well being of the thousands of students who have the pressure of their final high school exams and their acceptance into the uni of choice, because they keep being told that if they screw this up, they’ve screwed up their life.

And the scary thing about all of this is, I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface on the damage and impact that all these restrictions are having on the mental health of the entire population. The long term damage, not just the short term. The way that we, as a society will be able to function when we come out at the other side of this.

Again, I’m not discounting the importance of the restrictions or the reasons for it. I’m just saying that there needs to be a better balance than what there is now, with more consideration given to the real issues – the ones that aren’t being covered by the mainstream media. The ones that are being hidden or swept under the carpet, because I don’t think many will be “alright” in the end.

My message to those who are feeling the pressure and aren’t coping well:

I’m proud of you. I’m proud of what you’ve done today, what you did yesterday and what you will do tomorrow. You can always change things if the path you’re on now, doesn’t work out. It doesn’t make you a failure. It’s not the end and it’s okay if not everything works out or if some days are worse than others. You aren’t alone, even though it might feel like it sometimes. If you feel up to it, reach out and ask for help – I know that it can be a struggle but your strength has gotten you this far, and it’ll keep moving you forward. Don’t give up.

My message to those who are doing okay and could lend a helping hand or an ear:

Go check on your neighbour, friend, colleague. Call them. Text them. Ask them how they’re really feeling and be interested in what they have to say. Understand that it might take some people longer than others to open up and admit that they aren’t coping. Some people don’t think that they’re important enough to be fussed over or that they’re problems should be dealt with alone because they aren’t that big. Everyone is difference though – in how much they can cope with and how they cope. Help if you can, even if it’s just to listen to them. Just reaching out will mean more than you could imagine. It could really make a difference between being able to cope or choosing to throw it all in.

As a footnote to those that have been following my blogs, I promise to write about something other than just the mental health of people during lockdown. I've only written about it several times because the importance of it needs to be emphasized and understood by more than just a few, and I'm hoping that what I've been writing about it can reach the mainstream masses, so that some positive change can happen.

In the mood to read more?

My Blogs
Be proud of how much you have doneKeep moving forwardDo it your wayIt is okayDo what works for youEmbrace the rainy days for they make the sunny days shine brighter