Sunday 10 May

Now we have the government’s new roadmap slogan with a different background designed (apparently) to be less alarming than the first one: Stay Alert, Control the virus, Save lives. This has attracted ridicule in some quarters including public figures like J K Rowling. At the #stayalert hashtag ‘Mrs Nigel Farage’ tweeted ‘We are calling for ‘alert’ volunteers to join our VirusWatch Scheme here in Brexit-on-Sea. You will be equipped with a free pair of binoculars to help spot the virus, a net to catch it with and a bag to put it in’. ‘Parody Boris Johnson’ tweeted: ‘Tricky night. I was busy staying alert when I heard the virus’s heavy footsteps on the stairs. I controlled it by wrestling it to the floor then spent the rest of the night staying alive’.

Re the lockdown ‘mixed messages’, police in the London borough of Hackney should have an easier job today, given the much cooler weather, than yesterday when they were ‘fighting a losing battle’ to deal with large numbers of people in parks, ‘drinking beer and wine and eating pizza’. There’s increasing concern about having to make a choice between more freedom and endangering health on returning to work because of the need to earn. A Radio 4 The World this Weekend contributor made a key point about what people need in government communications: absolute clarity and for ministers to speak as ‘guardians’ of people’s health, not as politicians (the very thing leading to mixed messages, dancing on the head of a pin to have all bases covered when this is cowardly, unworkable and undermining of mental wellbeing).

Examples abound of people still not understanding distancing at the time it’s being eroded anyway. An Isle of Wight businessman observed a woman complaining to a fellow shopper that he was too close to her in a supermarket and he replied ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got the app’. Not dissimilar to having to ask two men sitting together at the top of some steps to move aside and one said ‘It’s ok – we live in the same house’. Besides being called upon to defend this new ‘second phrase’ approach, the government will also face questions about having had to send 50,000 test samples to the US for analysis. The problems were attributed to ‘operational difficulties’ and ‘teething problems’.

An anonymous writer in The Guardian describes how child mental health was in crisis before Covid-19 and how ‘going back to normal’ isn’t an option. A disproportionate mental health burden is borne by children and young people because of the unprocessed effects of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences, due to neglect, abuse, parental addiction or domestic violence etc); already long waiting lists for appointments and then treatment are lengthening; COVID19 testing isn’t universally in place; clinicians are getting mixed messages from management about who they should be prioritising given their much reduced staffing (new referrals or supporting the existing ones?); disturbed teenagers don’t necessarily want to talk on the phone and some are overdosing at home because of fear of attending A&E.

‘Even if we can check in with families and young people, mental health interventions rely so much on being able to see someone and understand what is being said without words. Some input – trauma work, for example – is risky to carry out over the phone…. My worry is that we will simply place vulnerable children back in the same situations that were causing a mental health epidemic pre-coronavirus’. Not unlike the social care area, the parlous state of mental health services will need to be seriously addressed when we emerge from this crisis because neither area can continue as they are.

Although mental wellbeing depends to some extent on the capacity and preparedness to get out of comfort zones and take risks of trying new things, etc, we also need our routines and comforts – even more in these uncertain times. The slimmed down radio and tv schedules have already removed some of these eg no new The Archers episodes for some time and arts programming has suffered for obvious reasons. Since a major source of comfort is food and drink, it’s interesting to see The Times report on the ridiculed takeover of Rank Hovis McDougal by Premier Foods in 2006, when Premier had boasted about ‘mouthwatering brands’ like Angel Delight, Atora suet and Mr Kipling’s cakes. But now Premier has had ‘the last laugh’, because items like flour, stock cubes and custard powder, associated with early 1950s ration books, are flying off the shelves and Premier shares have doubled in the past month. Sounds like lockdown cake consumers might divide between those buying the flour to make their own and those going for Mr Kipling’s ‘exceedingly good cakes’, though these days the high sugar content mightn’t be to everyone’s taste.  

On a lighter note, today is National Garden Day, ‘a day dedicated to celebrating being in our gardens and open spaces’, and we’re told gardens are blooming and benefiting from the extra attention many are getting.   The UK’s thousands of garden centres and their suppliers have collectively lost millions over recent weeks but hope to claw back some of those losses if they’re allowed to open over the late May holiday. James Barnes, chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), said the country’s 23 million gardeners were ‘itching’ to get down to their local store to buy plants and other gardening paraphernalia.

“We know there will be a huge surge in demand. We would ask customers not to rush to retailers and buy more than they need.” Brace yourselves for those queues: we could be facing geranium rations instead of a toilet paper deficit.

During the last few weeks there have been several losses of key music industry figures, including Stranglers keyboardist Dave Greenfield, Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider and now Little Richard, described in The Guardian as ‘an ultra-sexual force of anti-nature’. It’s worth  catching The Times’s topical take on 1955 hit Tutti Frutti’s lyric ‘awopbopaloobop alopbamboom’ on Radio 4 (09.21 minutes in).

Published by therapistinlockdown

I'm a psychodynamic therapist in private practice, also doing some voluntary work, and I'm interested in the whole field of mental health, especially how it's faring in this unprecedented crisis we're all going through. I wanted to explore some of the psychological aspects to this crisis which, it seems to me, aren't being dealt with sufficiently by the media or policymakers, for example the mental health burden already in evidence and likely to become more severe as time goes on.

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