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  • Kevin

COVID-19 and Mental Health

I read a BBC online news bulletin this week that stated there was a significant drop in referrals for mental health services during lockdown. But healthcare providers are expecting an avalanche of referrals in the very near future as we emerge from lockdown. So how are you coping with the ongoing fallout of the COVID-19 crisis?

Many of us may have lost loved ones in this pandemic. Others may have lost jobs or their livelihoods, and indeed there is the very real threat of further losses to come. This understandably can make us very anxious or indeed depressed. Lives once certain, now feel out of control.

Reflecting on these issues, reminded me of the work of Viktor Frankl and his book Man's Search for Meaning, an autobiographical account of his imprisonment at Auschwitz. In the book, Frankl describes his observations on why some survived the hardships of concentration camp life whilst others did not. How do you cope when you are forced to perform heavy labour with meagre food rations whilst brutalised by tyrants? In short, when you have very little control over your own life. Frankl concludes that those most likely to survive Auschwitz had an inner purpose or meaning that somehow strengthened them, whilst those who did not, were more likely to perish. For Frankl, the thought that kept him going was that he might be reunited with his wife and publish a book. Sadly his wife never survived the war, but Frankl went on to write several books after being freed and founded a new form of psychotherapy called logotherapy based on his experiences.

What gives you meaning in life? What do you value above all and what is important to you? It could be your family members, friends, pets, giving your time by volunteering. It could be pretty much anything, not necessarily something to accomplish or gain but something that keeps you holding on despite your difficulties. Meaning is not set in stone. We might establish several meanings in our lifetime and let others go. And just because you are sure you know what meaning you attach to your life doesn't indicate your life will be without troubles. On the contrary, often the very things that keep us going can cause us a great deal of struggle and indeed even make us question those meanings. But in a testament to human resilience, it is amazing how we can keep going despite pain and hardship, as Frankl experienced and witnessed, when we attribute meaning to our lives.

If you are struggling at the moment to make sense of what is happening, reflect on what really matters to you and turn your attention to what you can control rather than what you cannot. I am not saying that this is easy so remember there are resources available to help you whether that's family and friends, your GP or a professional counsellor. I think one of the reasons why there may be an upsurge in referrals to mental health services is because people will have the meanings they attributed to their lives challenged by this crisis. So please do not hesitate to seek support if you feel you need it.

Finally, I believe that everyone has a value to someone or something, so if you are unsure of your meaning or purpose in your life, maybe you can reflect on what this might be. Do not worry if you find this difficult. If you are not sure what your purpose is, take time to enjoy the process of finding out or you could enlist the support of a counsellor to help you.

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