For Mental Health week 2021 we asked year 12s and university students to open up to us and the world of social media, on how COVID-19 and the lockdowns affected them and their mental health. Each one of the articles below are special, and we thank each and every one of the writers for being so open and honest with us and the rest of the world. This is part of what we strive for and we couldn’t be prouder when reading what each young writer wrote and how they expressed themselves.
Daniel Schechter - "Sharing his feelings on missing his group of friends during lockdown and how he felt when GCSEs were cancelled."
I am a year 11 student and I want to share my experiences with you of the past year.
I love to listen to music, playing cricket and watching rugby.
I hate talking about my emotions. During these lockdown periods, it has been hard for me to come to terms with my emotions just like so many others.
Lockdown has been a strange time for all, with our normal way of life being redefined so drastically within such a short space of time. From seeing my friends minimum 5 days a week to not seeing them for 3 months straight. It was a hard realisation to come to that I could not even walk pass someone on the street, in fear of catching the virus.
I think I would be lying if I said this had no effect on my mental health. The deception of loneliness slowly started to creep in. It is hard to remind yourself that your friends are out there because you cannot see them. However, social media can allow you to connect with your friends and if we did not have that today I do not think I would have been so positive throughout lockdown.
One thing that has affected me is the cancellation of my GCSEs.
It is great I don’t have to go through the pressure of sitting these exams however, imagine working hard for something for 5 years and then having it taken away from you. I think most students will understand the disappointment I felt the night Boris announced the cancellation of my exams.
I remember sitting on a call with a few friends after the news and us all feeling a bit deflated as if we had all just been punched in the stomach. However, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so by Boris cancelling exams it personally removed a lot of stress off me, which has definitely helped me mentally.
I want to end this with a message I keep telling myself: Times may be bleak now, but in due time our old way of life, before COVID will become a new reality once again. Please always remember that you are never alone.
Joe Bellman - Beautifully written poem on how he is currently feeling. We especially like the ending: “I can see the light even when the darkness is calling”.
I'm greeted with this voice in the morning The same voice talking when darkness hits, a strategic blitz disrupting my mindstate when dark waves insist on crushing through my mind's gate these thoughts suffocate my headspace so I struggle to locate my happy place my emotional state is just an afterthought These thoughts distort my peaceful mentality Paving the way for anxiety So I start thinking overly questioning my fragile stability Simple tasks now become a challenge to me Getting out of bed is a near impossibility The plausible reality I'm isolating socially hiding my insecurities from friends and family
You see, my thoughts rain down with hostility They drown out a stress-free mind I have this tension inside I sigh cause I can't see the light The wiring of my brain is so uptight I try to fight it But I can't find the fight, so I accept and flight I'm a riding passenger in the seat of my mind
Behind enemy lines, negative thoughts start firing surviving in the dark trench of my subconscious without caution, they launch an enormous attack No time to react, I don't back my stability This artillery has me retreating quickly I start fatiguing as the colour between my cheeks fade I have no say in this mental raid I'm pleading with the pain to just go away Or at least not stay for more than a few days But that's just it, I'm a misfit with no remote control To commit goals and aspirations I'll never find love, happiness, admiration Without hesitation my body tenses with anger and frustration A perfect presentation of my emotional complications Because depression is so much more than just mental Yes, thoughts are a central theme, But fundamental no, The physical implications are equally known Frozen in space I lose myself, plenty My palms are sweaty knees weak arms are heavy The four walls close in already Unsteady, I'm trapped in my bed An invisible force crushes hard on my chest Constricting my lungs with each gasping breath, Eyes bloodshed, I try and find peace But the peace I seek is not the peace I need screaming for help but it seems no one can hear vocalising my thoughts is my biggest fear I've been suffering in silence since my school years
When I open my front door I pick myself up and ignore the ongoing war in head Even if I'm dead inside I'm prepared to face life putting all this commotion aside It's hard I can't lie Living in a mask is why I'm so tired all the time But society tells me it's unmanly to cry that vulnerability is a crime so I suffer in silence a sign of the times disguising my emotions with an Oscar-worthy showcase It's an act, no laughing emoji smiley face I'm trapped in part I no longer play It's hard to adapt when I feel so un-worthy How can you love me if I don't love me Trust me, Deep down I'm about to break down, I'm breathing loud exposed now Reaching out cause I have so much to talk about
In all honesty I beat myself up constantly for feeling this way Even though I know it's ok Just sometimes I can't speak or say the things I want to say I'm in this dark place and I don't want to escape And this scares me Unfairly dictating my life barely living And no, depression is not forgiven It's so hard My emotional scars continue spinning just cause my pain isn't visible Doesn’t mean it’s any less critical But the truth is I need to start being kinder to myself breath when my thoughts overwhelm start applauding my resilience within continue challenging my thoughts tackling my trauma searching for that transcendent state Nirvana I am and I will be ok cause I know if I actively change my mentality No matter how hard it's going to be I will break free from depressions hold
I can see the light even when the darkness is calling And this is the voice I'm greeted with in the morning
Jacob Steinberg - Talks about how the pandemic changed the way he thinks of what happiness really is. A great read, with a promise of a whole book.
How has the pandemic affected me?
“The version of me sat here today, would otherwise cease to exist if the pandemic never happened”. Ordinarily I’d scroll past one of these bullshit quotes on Instagram designed to make one feel better about oneself for a few moments, but this one was different. This got me thinking. How has the pandemic affected me? and am I ok with the answer? Now when I say ok, I guess what I really mean is content. Not happy, or any other positive synonym for happy, just content. You’re probably sat here reading this wondering why not happy? Well let me tell you. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be able to say I’m happy with where this pandemic has taken me, however I’m not naïve. So therefore, the answer is very, very, simple; This past year has been seriously fucking draining.
However, I say that with a sense of guilt - Should it have been for someone like me? Let’s think about it. Whilst doctors woke up at 4am to start a 14-hour shift on the front line, bus drivers spent their days inside, essentially, a germ box, and parents struggled with putting food on the table for their children at home, what was I doing? This is where I can really answer the aforementioned question over how the pandemic has affected me. On a random Wednesday in March, my 13 year, one-school career came to an end, A-levels were cancelled, placing me in a position where I, an 18-year-old boy, had 4 months free time on my hands. So, what could I do? My right hand was already exhausted, pubs and clubs were closed, and there was nowhere open for me to get a job. There was an obvious solution to my so called “problem”: What am I not happy with, and how can I fix it? Well try to, at least. The answer, surprisingly, was arguably more obvious – it stared me in the face every time I walked past a mirror. It was me. Not all of me, just the physical, as fluoxetine, which some of you may know as Prozac, took care of the rest. Look, I’ve always been a big guy, and always will be. I know that, I’m 6’4. However, I was 18 years old and weighed 125kg. I was practically on for a heart attack at 40. So, with the local wenzel’s shut, and literal months to kill, I got to work. I won’t long this explanation out for your sake. Essentially, I lost 4.5 stone. Great, no? Of course. But was I happy? Don’t be stupid. Standing across from the new me in the mirror, looking at the body and face I’d only ever dreamt about, and I still wasn’t happy. I’d always believed that happiness consists of two things. Your ability to defeat issues you have with yourself and being able to share your triumphs with those around you. Clearly, I was wrong.
That’s when it dawned on me, and the pandemic taught me a lesson that, when I am asked in later years how I was affected by the pandemic, this will always be my answer. For context, I’ve been dragged through, arguably, more shit in my life thus far than most will experience in a lifetime. A bold statement, I know, but you’ll see what I mean when I’m finished with my book. Anyways, back to the pandemic. Everything you go through, from the moments you want the world to stop spinning and to just get off for an hour, to the moments where stepping outside your front door feels like getting on a rollercoaster, or even the moments where you feel invincible, is all a mindset. And that’s how the pandemic affected me. It made me realise that happiness is a mindset. So many people let the same problem bother them for years, when they could just say ‘so what’. A fresh start isn’t about a new place, a new job, a new body, it’s a new mindset. It’s not about outsourcing your own happiness onto other things, or even people, because it’s not their responsibility, it’s your own. This may sound harsh, and it’s so much easier said than done, but it’s what the pandemic has taught me, and I hope it gives you something to think about. Love, Jacob x
Georgia Ryb - Talks about the highs and lows she experienced during the pandemic which started when she was a Year 10 student, with the fear of the unknown having the biggest impact on her mental health.
I first heard about Covid during form time at school and didn’t think much of it. Fast forward a few months and I’m watching the news. Every school was shutting. At this time and the time leading up to it, I didn’t mind the idea of this, as I thought it would just be a change from our normal lives. Of course, I didn’t realise back then the effects this would have on people in general, including people’s mental health, jobs and of course the dangers of the virus. As a year 10 student in the first lockdown, I did have to work and attend online live lessons. For some people this was fairly straightforward due to great resources from school and having the motivation. For others this was definitely not as easy and was a struggle due to their various circumstances.
Missing out on learning is always talked about in the discussion of children in this pandemic, but it is difficult to understand until you experience it first hand, especially as one of the year groups majorly affected by it. Usually as a year 10 student, you will have some sort of mock/exams at the end of the school year. This wasn’t the case for my year, and while at the time I was happy about not having any major exams, the pressure on me and everyone in the same situation for the actual mocks was inexplainable. It is one of the most confusing situations going from missing 4 months of school, into year 11 with absolutely no exam experience with your mocks coming up in 3 months. Being told that ‘exams will definitely be going ahead’ and then going into school to your teachers saying ‘make sure you try your hardest in these mocks, because they could go towards your GCSES’ causes bewilderment in everyone. Never a clear answer and left in the unknown. While doing these exams, there is always that voice in you, telling you they might go toward your actual results.
Limited human interaction in those times due to lockdowns and tiers definitely heightens your emotions and at certain points I definitely felt overwhelmed by everything. People always say that being at school helps some people to feel safer and helps certain people with their mental health and it is indeed true. People may not realise this, but sometimes when you’re in these stressful times, being around a lot of people including your friends can be the best distraction for you. In the months leading up to my mocks the times I felt the most engulfed by my worries were at home when thinking about the worst-case scenarios of these exams.
There were definitely some highs of this whole situation. In the summer of 2020, being able to see friends again was a major relief. For many people, including people my age, football is a huge distraction and that returning was a huge highlight. There were more things to look forward to, and great weather. Going back to school was also something else that caused elation in many, even if mock exams were so soon. Getting back into a routine for some people, including myself, can positively improve your mental health and be a diversion for worrisome thoughts. Even with this came the worry of a possible second lockdown due to the imminent second wave. But it didn’t end there, as this then turned into a third lockdown.
By the third time I have had online learning, around half way through year 11, I can confirm that any novelty of online lessons and being at home had gone. I cannot express how hard it is to concentrate and motivate yourself. I think many people would agree with me when I say it is not as simple as just ‘turn your phone off’ and ‘make sure there are no distractions while you are working’. In these situations, sometimes you go into fight or flight mode, meaning during this period of online school it might be easier to just pretend you haven’t got 5 assignments and 2 tests coming up. Envision a situation when all the work you do goes towards a very important set of results. This includes contribution in lessons, tests, mock exams. Everything blurs into one, with no one knowing the difference between classwork and homework.
There have been many mixed emotions amongst everyone with exams being cancelled. For some there can be comfort found in this, as there will no longer be a short period of time in May/June where everyone’s stress levels will be so incredibly high. For others, exams are more helpful in terms of their revising increasing coming up to that, but for everyone, when your whole education leads up to something that gets cancelled unexpectedly, it can cause shock and confusion. While this situation is the most-fair for everyone, it can leave you feeling helpless. This then leads to the increased likelihood of no holidays or other fun experiences in summer, that people look forward to as a great end to a very stressful two school years. Less things to look forward to can cause me and others to feel much less motivated and inspired to do normal, every-day things.
From my own experience and from speaking to others about it, it does seem that this lockdown has taken a toll on people’s mental health in a way that we couldn’t even imagine before this pandemic. A whole range of new problems to deal with and not as much support from your peers can put you in a difficult situation of overthinking about so many things. Sometimes it just feels like everything gets dragged on and these circumstances which we aren’t properly used to have been going on for so long. It’s a feeling of hopelessness mixed with the odd moment of joy when you do well in a test, or get to go on a walk with a friend.
Hopefully with this vaccine and the lockdown restrictions being lifted, everything will start to feel more normal and people will have many more distractions and keep busy, away from the constant worry. Hopefully more happy moments and joy will fill all of our lives soon.
Anonymous - Talks about what he calls the worse year of his life, what went wrong for him and how he has overcome many obstacles to become a better person today. A raw read, with an amazing self-assessment.
Looking back at one of the most challenging year of my life, I know I will not be the only one with a story to tell. This is my story about how I have been affected by the global pandemic.
My journey this past year has been a series of big lows and a few highs. But I am thankful and grateful I have overcome the lows. These lows were filled with a depressed mindset, which sunk to a negative cycle of thoughts and feelings. It was as though I had a grey cloud hanging over my head, which faded at times but most of the time was there, heavy, and dark. This happened when I felt extraordinarily little self-worth in this cruel world. Through overcoming these lows, I have developed the mentality that nothing can stop me and that I can overcome anything that life throws at me.
Overall, this past year has taught me that perseverance, determination, and resilience are vital characteristics to have, to ‘succeed’ at overcoming life’s obstacles. From February to end of May last year, I experienced my ‘rock bottom’. This was mainly due to the death of my 11-year-old dog who I have grown up with and adored since I was 8. There were other contributing factors including social challenges. I fell out with the things I loved, such as exercise and I tackled my anxiety and depression through eating. I ate loads. I ate unnecessarily and without care, out of pure lack of self-worth and I developed an addiction to crisps. In a way, this irrational spate of eating, was caused because I did not care about my health anymore. I started to eat about 4 packets of crisps a day and I stopped exercising. I weighed over 14 stone and became rounded and out of shape. I felt flat and I felt very down about myself and began to focus on my long-term insecurities.
To overcome my struggles, a major aspect was to return to exercise. However, I was very unfit. I started doing 5 min gym sessions and I built this up gradually to over an hour by adding 5 mins to each session. This was a hard process, and I am incredibly grateful to my parents for the equipment I had access to, to start this new fitness journey. As I became more mobile and fit over time, I aimed to do more cardio to lose body fat and I began to experiment with new ways to exercise. I developed my passion and love for cycling. Now, after cycling to central London and back with my great friend Stefano, several times, we plan to complete the Paris cycle in the summer of 2023 for the Mental Health Foundation. I also developed a passion for boxing. I now have a boxing coach, who I box with twice a week. This passion started at the beginning of 2021. It helps me deal with my anger and aggression, especially with things I cannot do anything about, reverse or control. For example, the passing of my Auntie.
Boxing helps me release this negative energy and recharge my batteries. I aim to train to a certain level where I can join a boxing class and become part of a boxing community. I really look forward to this. Next summer, I plan to fight in a boxing charity match for the Oli Leigh Trust and Beyond. Charity motivates me and gives me purpose as I feel like I am giving back to society, thanking them for giving me the vital resources and a ‘support network’, when I needed it the most. It is motivating to know that I am trying to ensure no one else must go through what I did, alone. No one must feel alone in this crazy world we live in. At times, I feel fortunate that I can empathise with others how difficult it is to carry on with everyday life when it is such an internal struggle.
Therefore, I want to contribute significantly to mental health charities, as I aim to make a positive difference from my troubled experiences. I want to transform negativity into positivity and light. This is what drives me to inspire others, especially young people, that anything is possible, despite the labelling and stigma which occurs in our society. When I talk about support network, I mean professional help, together with close friends and family. They are the key components which helped me develop resilience and purpose. I receive professional help with my mental health. I am not afraid or embarrassed to admit that. In fact, this helped me so much, that I believe, everyone should try to see a life coach at one point during their lives.
This past year, I lost friends and made new friends, especially when restrictions eased. I went to parks, walked around fields, even drove to Plymouth and back for a few days with a new crowd. And I am delighted with my new friends as I feel these are genuine friends for life. I removed all the negative energy from old friendships and transformed this to positive energy with new ones. A great close friend once said to me, ‘the 5 people you hang out with the most define who you will become’. Thankfully, I have more than 5 and I am proud to say how I have many close friends who do make me feel good about myself. And this helped me during my period of recovery and at my lowest points too. It is true when people say your real friends stand out when you go through hard times. I have come so far. I was in a bubble of negative thoughts, and everyday living was a struggle. I hated my life but now I love it. I now have a car cleaning business which I am investing in, to grow and expand. I am a hard worker and I love my course, but I also work hard building a business I own which was built with my best friend. I also spend a lot of time researching trading and investment in shares. I make sure I do not invest in any company which treat their employees badly. In my own business, I aim to treat all my employees with respect, and it is important to me that they enjoy what they do and get job satisfaction.
Recently, I went into a Rehabilitation Centre for about 4 weeks. This transformed me. Every day I worked on myself to stabilise myself from a manic episode. I worked out twice a day in the gym, I read extensively and relaxed whilst I received the right medication, support, and therapy which I so desperately needed. I told my family; it is like coming out of a monastery which I was sucked into for 4 weeks. And I came out as a warrior or a spiritual guru at the same time. I was unstable, aggressive, impulsive, and irrational. Now, I am much better but there is always more work to be done. I never thought I could ever call myself patient before. I still made many mistakes, which most of them I do not even remember when I was so unwell. I argued with a lot of people,80% of which, I never remembered when I came out of hospital. This experience was painful as my freedom was taken away the moment I walked in. But now I am out after 4 weeks, I feel free, and I am slowly adjusting back to my not so normal life. I now know how to deal with irrational thoughts and behaviour better, as I am aware of my challenges. I meditate, I work out, I read, and I do mindfulness techniques when I need. Even though there are some challenges of leaving hospital and adjusting to the norm at home, I know there are challenges to come which I will learn to tackle more efficiently each time, through experiences, further developing resilience. If it makes any sense, I look forward to conquering future obstacles. I look forward to life’s challenges and rewards, which is a big transition to earlier this year, when I feared the challenges and did not enjoy rewards. I simply did not enjoy many things. Now, I am more grateful than ever for my support network.
I have answers which I wanted to discover. I wanted to know what caused the root of my anger. I discovered that this was caused by trauma which I experienced when I was younger. For example, I had a lot of anger related to my Auntie's suicide. I regretted not being there enough for her and I feel like I could have saved her. But when someone professional advised me to write a letter to her, a lot of locked up aggression and anger poured out through my tears. I broke down whilst writing it but afterwards, I felt a weight off my shoulders which was there for at least 5 years. I suffered trauma by losing her and not saying good-bye when I last saw her was something that haunted me. Small but simple actions can have such an enormous effect. I will continue to write letters to my Auntie, every time my mind wanders and I think about her, even when it is painful to do so. I can’t control my mind, but I can control the present by reflecting and learning from the past in order to build for myself a better and more stable future. This is just a small part of my story. I hope this helps inspire other people who have gone through difficult times in their life journey to never give in or give up, but always to strive forward and overcome any obstacles which are thrown at them. Good things lay ahead....