Report: 'Feelings of anxiety, low mood, worry, anger and despondency are very normal reactions to a very abnormal situation' 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the world, with every single one of us feeling the effects in one way or another. While managing life through the lockdown has been challenging enough, we now have to face up to the immense psychological fallout it has caused. Dr Tony Bates, clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychology at UCD, was a guest on the Today With Sarah McInerney show on RTÉ Radio 1 last week and talked about this issue.

"The connections we have with the people, a feeling of security in the world and having something to do that's productive, creative and valued, these are the wheels that keep our mental health going round and round, and they've been taken away", Bates said.

"We've been put in situations where we can't reach out in times of stress, and so we're left to our own devices. Some of us are working, some are not, and some are losing their work and having the terror of financial worry. Some are looking after people at home and are confined and trapped, and some are in very difficult situations where they're living with very few resources and a great deal of pressure.

"So it's not surprising that we're going to get a fallout. But let's be very clear, this isn't a fallout that people are going to become mentally ill, that's not the issue at all. The reactions people have, their feelings of anxiety, low mood, worry, anger, despondency, these are very normal reactions to a very abnormal situation. There are those who are prone to mental health difficulties for a long time. And those people in particular, I think, can be hit very hard by this."

Bates pointed to recent studies in Australia which have looked at how people reacted to the pandemic. "They found that about a third, a quarter of people had significant distress as a result of this, and were living with this.

"Sometimes the populations that hurt the most were not what you'd expect. We might expect older people alone to be having a particularly hard time, and some of them were, but they found that one of the most stressed group was millennials, born between 1980 and 1997. Of course, when you think about them, they are people that are just taking on families, children, mortgages, maybe career moves, and they were the ones who were most disrupted. And these are, to some extent, a hidden group in our population."

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Brendan O'Connor Show, Kathy Sheridan, Tony Bates and Fr. Brian Darcy talk about coping with the uncertainty of Covid-19

A lot is already in train to help these groups, says Bates. "The good news is that the HSE have done their thinking. They have an incredible policy now which has very clear actions and strategies and approaches to helping people at different levels of need. It really puts the person at the centre of all that planning and recovery, so that's there. They have recently appointed a response team to actually begin to target some of their interventions towards those that they know will have had a very hard time. So I think the good news in the very vulnerable areas is that a lot is about to take place."

Bates also spoke about people who "have never been in the space of emotional distress before" but who now find themselves in this situation because of unemployment, illness or other reasons. "Some of them are very distressed, and they're very open to learning what they can do to cope with that. There's a lot of public education that can happen just like with washing hands, wearing masks and doing these things that we didn't conceive of doing before. I think there's a lot of mental health messaging that can go out."

Look, it's okay to feel the way you do. Now will you, for heaven' sake, acknowledge that and then do something

Bates also spoke about people who will find it harder to reach out for help. "They say they're okay, but they're not okay and they are bewildered by the whole thing. They've never been able to articulate that before because they haven't had to, they've always managed their lives. For those people, I think it's really hard to reach out for help because they don't have the language and they feel slightly ashamed. We need to bear those people in mind and give them as clear information as we can.

"And we need to just tell them 'look, it's okay to feel the way you do. Now will you, for heaven' sake, acknowledge that and then do something.' All of us need to be able to be aware of what's happening, and we need to do something. The worst thing in the face of stress and trauma is that we become immobilised, or we let ourselves be immobilszed. And because all those energies of fight-flight get locked in our bodies and we get post-trauma later down the road. So we need to do something, it doesn't matter how tiny the something is, and just give ourselves time."

Hear the discussion in full above