As lead GP at a practice with more than 5,000 patients in Huddersfield, Dr Aneesha Ahmad has experienced the trials of the NHS frontline first-hand.
Months of uncertainty and worry – not to mention financial hardship – have taken their toll on people’s mental and physical wellbeing, the effects of which would be evident well into 2021.
Dr Aneesha, of The Junction Surgery in Moldgreen, said: “The impact on people’s mental health will be far-reaching.
“2020 has been such a difficult year and so many long, unsettling months spent battling an invisible killer will inevitably take their toll.
“In our practice alone, we have seen a huge increase in anxiety and depression cases following the pandemic and especially as we find ourselves in a third national lockdown.
“This is a rise in newly-diagnosed cases, among young and old patients, along with worsening symptoms in those who have pre-existing mental health conditions.”
Dr Aneesha, who also runs the Skyn Doctor aesthetic and dermatology clinic, believes that despite the roll-out of the Coronavirus vaccine, the wider determinants of health – such as poverty, inadequate housing and a lack of education – will all have an impact on people’s lives and wellbeing.
During the Coronavirus pandemic around one in five adults have experienced some form of depression, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The effects of isolation and loneliness on mental health can be severe, with so many experiencing a lack of daily structure due to furlough, working from home or managing home schooling.
There are signs that your mental health could be struggling – you may have some, all, or none of these:
- Poor appetite and losing weight, or in some cases over eating and gaining weight;
- Irregular sleep patterns – in particular insomnia and early morning wakening;
- Lack of motivation – not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, no enjoyment in usual hobbies or activities;
- Lack of concentration;
- In more severe cases, depression can become life threatening and can cause self-harming or thoughts of suicide.
Anxiety is what people feel when they are worried, tense or afraid, particularly when it comes to things that are about to happen or which they think could happen. Some of the symptoms commonly associated with being anxious include:
- Panic attacks – sweating, feeling dizzy, hyperventilating, shaking, pins and needles;
- Repetitive worrying thoughts;
- Poor sleep due to worrying thoughts;
- Not wanting to go out or have any interaction;
- Sense of dread.
The good news is that while lockdown is not aiding our mental health, there are simple steps that you can take to boost your wellbeing to ensure that you not only protect your body, but your mind too:
- Daily routines are good for our brain – wake up at the same time and go to bed at a consistent time;
- Exercise and fresh air – gyms are closed and the weather is poor, but walking and running increases endorphins, your feel-good hormones;
- Eat healthy and drink plenty of water;
- Keep in touch with friends and family via the phone or chat over a video call;
- Talk to family or friends about how you’re feeling;
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol levels;
- Limit the news and social media;
- Relaxation techniques which allow you to feel calmer and more uplifted;
- Try to keep mentally active – reading or try a new hobby.
“I haven’t come across anyone who hasn’t struggled to some extent during the pandemic and the pressures on hospitals and the NHS has never been greater,” Dr Aneesha said.
“The virus has totally changed the way we are working as health professionals, how we are now running our surgeries on a daily basis and ultimately how we will deal with our patients in the future.
“But if you’re struggling, please seek help and reach out to someone. GP services are always on hand to offer support and advice, and they will work with you to help improve your wellbeing.”