The mental health impact of lockdowns

With further coronavirus restrictions potentially on the horizon a young Belfast man recounts how lockdown left him “feeling physically and mentally terrible”.

 Phillip McKinley, married (24) from South Belfast, saw his mental health deteriorate during the first lockdown of 2020. He says he began to fall into old vices such as smoking and excessive drinking as a way of coping with his separation from many of his friends as well as his then fiancé Lisa.

 “The most damaging aspect of lockdown to my mental health was being cut off from all physical contact with all of my family, my fiancée and 95% of my friends.” He says  “I am an extremely extroverted person who thrives and draws life from social situations, to be cut off from that was devastating”.

 Phillip’s mental health reached its lowest point when he was placed on furlough. He admits, “I was a wreck. I would drink excessively to the point where waking up with a hangover was the norm, I hid this from my two housemates  by hiding the empty bottle and disposing of them at night.”

 “I started smoking regularly again, a habit which hadn’t plagued me for about a year and a half at that point. I remember often sitting late at night playing computer games after having drank a full bottle of spirits, just thinking about the damage I was doing to myself but having no concern for it as I genuinely didn’t care what happened to me at that point because my life was so awful”

Phillip’s Christian faith and the influence of his two housemates helped him to regain some structure in his life and improve his mental wellbeing. He explains  “I lived with two other guys and we were all part of the church community before lockdown. We lived a certain Christian way of life together that meant we were more connected than your average three men living together.”

 “We practiced communal morning worship and prayer twice a week, we would celebrate the Lords Day every Saturday (a Christianised version of the old Jewish tradition), and we had ‘church’ services each Sunday. We also observed lent and Easter together as these were going on at the time. These were the only things in my life that I had left.”

 These practices, as well as returning to working from home in early June helped Phillip get his mental health back to a healthy place. However, the experience has left him afraid of the return of Covid restrictions as infections rise and hospitals across Northern Ireland are beginning to feel the strain.

 He explains his frustration that the mental health impact of another lockdown is often overlooked. “I can imagine nothing worse than another lockdown.”

 If you are also worried about the return of covid restrictions or are struggling with any other mental health issues you can avail of the new UUSU helpline on the freephone number  0808 801 0844.