The pandemic has had a toll on mental health. We heard about the impact that it’s had on our diarists - from the early days of the lockdown and through the months that followed.

For some of our diarists already living with severe mental health conditions, coronavirus has made life harder:

“I live with an eating disorder, a type of anorexia which I have been recovering from for about a year and a half. One of the main ways I handle my food-related anxiety is through movement... The fact that movement has (quite rightly) been restricted to control the pandemic has somewhat upset my recovery. I have found that anorexic thoughts and tendencies are beginning to creep back in to my routine and lifestyle.”

“Due to long term mental health conditions including OCD and social anxiety…I've already been living life very similar to the way things are now. But the restrictions have now made life even harder and exacerbated existing conditions... In the immediate effect of the lockdown I thought I'd have to self isolate for 12 weeks as I have asthma but as it's not classed as severe I don't have to, but I've felt a lot of anxiety and uncertainty.”

Equally, women who had never experienced mental health problems before the virus reported suffering with their mental health for the first time during lockdown:

“I have been suffering more migraines recently and was woken by a real swine of one at 3am. I was horrified to found myself thinking dark thoughts - never had these before- like: if things are going to be like this for a long time, I’m not sure I want to be around. I even imagined pressing a knife against my wrists! I was able to observe myself with these thoughts.”

“I have been really poorly over the previous weeks with suspected COVID and had to return to the COVID ward at the hospital last Friday for further tests... After conducting a number of tests they could not see anything that was causing it and concluded it must just be panic attacks so sent me home…These attacks are terrifying, only happen when I’ve been sleeping and are not something I’ve experienced before.”

Employment was a source of anxiety for diarists. For some, it is the challenge of working all day in their bedroom. For others, it is being in the workplace or the thought of returning to the workplace that causes anxiety:

“I'm feeling much sadder, the main challenge is around mental health related to my workplace being in my bedroom and anxieties and stresses associated with work have been amplified... I am secure in my job but have long been managing the difficulty of bringing stress and tension from work home so WFH has made that worse and blurred life/work boundaries.”

“The government advice to get back to the office really worries me. The track and trace system isn't working at 80% yet, I'm worried I'll catch the virus in our big open plan office.”

Some of the diarists have been experiencing the financial stress and worry from being made redundant or being self-employed:

“For the first few months of lockdown I enjoyed the opportunity to regroup, rest, read, research and exercise but the last two months have been hard. My mood has changed and I wake up feeling low and quite tearful. Nearly all my work has stopped and my income has fallen by nearly 50%. I feel I should be grateful for having a home, enough food and a good family but I still feel low.”

“I have been made redundant from work... It has been such a stress. There are no jobs at the moment and I’m worried for the future…Mental health has been a mess due to stress re work and family. I have been having more frequent panic attacks.”

Mothers with school-age children also described the stress of trying to balance work and home-schooling without any respite:

“Over the past month or so I have felt the culmination of the pressure to keep all the plates spinning in my family life, and am pretty much burnt out. I've been squeezing my full-time freelance work around everyone else's needs in my family ... I feel pretty resentful about the imbalance in responsibilities and I am desperate for the 'luxury' of a long, interrupted day of work.”

“The best thing that has happened this week is that we are officially on school holidays so home-schooling can stop. The relief of this is indescribable. The last few months have taken a terrible toll on my mental health. Sometimes I have felt like a Stepford Wife, my life reduced to nothing but childcare and domestic chores…I am not sleeping well. My mood is very low.”

This was particularly true of mothers of children with additional needs:

“This week my son has been into school for two days…These two days were amazing. To have him leave the house, to not have to stress about home-schooling…felt like a gift from heaven. It made me realise, again, how truly stressful the last few months have been, having to face this challenge every day with a child with special needs who bases his life on a clear separation between home and school.”

As well as focused anxiety, diarists reported general feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness:

“I have had some very bad days in terms of anxiety and low mood and felt very close to panic on Sunday evening for reasons I can't identify. I had to hand the baby to my husband and go away and calm myself down. I feel as though I'm on the edge of "something" almost all the time, I just don't know what.”

“My daughter and son-in-law came to stay for 4 days and what joy and happiness they brought to me. Company throughout the day, company with meals, company to walk with... My heart broke when they left and for a few days afterwards I felt I heard their footsteps coming down the stairs for breakfast, followed by the utter disappointment to know I was on my own again and the uncertainty as to when I might see them again with this talk of a second wave.”

Isolation and loneliness were experienced because of a lack of access to informal support networks:

“This week seemed very difficult… Small things that went wrong really got to me. I got very upset when I realised I hadn't touched another person for over five weeks. I am quite a touchy-feeling person and love hugging my friends, so the lack of human contact is getting to me…I am normally very good at being on my own, but this is hard.”

And formal networks:

“I'm starting to get concerned about my mental health; prior to Covid-19 I was receiving rapid eye movement therapy for post traumatic stress disorder but this has been put on hold. Although my therapist is ringing each month, and I know I can contact the Wellbeing service, I am struggling to remain up beat about my current situation and my future and have experienced short periods of depression and anxiety.”

“A lot of my mental bandwidth at the moment is taken up with anxiety/worries/fear about the forthcoming birth of my second baby. I had a traumatic experience with my 1st son and developed ptsd and pnd after he was born so… the absolute last thing I need is all the extra uncertainty etc being caused by the pandemic, especially as some of the forms of extra support/steps being taken to try and ensure a better experience for me this time around have been cancelled/ postponed/ truncated.”

As lockdown went on, many reported lacking motivating to work, exercise, take up a hobby, and even get dressed in the morning:

“This week has been much the same as the previous weeks in some ways. I wake each morning wondering if it is worth getting up, getting dressed and whether I can be bothered to go for my daily walk. Increasingly I have thoughts as to whether I can keep going. I miss the company of being with people, friends, volunteering, going on day trips to London, and other towns and cities.”

“I just feel really weary of everything... I keep reading about lots of people enjoying free time to learn new skills but I'm just trying not to drown in it all.”

Diarists described different methods for coping during lockdown, such as establishing a routine and avoiding the news:

“I realised was beginning to become depressed so I decided to stick to a daily routine…Before breakfast I am doing a daily 10 minute workout for seniors with Joe Wicks…and then another 10 minutes yoga for seniors. It is amazing how 20 minutes a day has lifted my mood and made me feel a lot better.”

“I have found myself focusing on things I enjoy and learning rather than poring over the news or social media. I haven't really bothered with either for a number of weeks now. Occasionally I think I might be missing something important on the news but it's helped my mental health considerably.”

The easing of lockdown also caused anxiety for some, but there was also tangible relief when restrictions on meeting up with others in public were lifted:

“I had an anxiety attack this last week, brought on my concerns around COVID and the relaxations of the lockdown. It took me by surprise and made me see how much things are bothering me. I'm trying to push myself to do a little more, but it is hard for me - for my husband, for my girls, for all of us.”

“On the emotional level, I think I'm a bit on edge. The loosening of lockdown is harder to do than at the beginning of lockdown. I'm aware I won't always get it right and I find that difficult...”

“I feel in a slightly better place, I've met another friend for a walk in the park. Although we've been chatting on the phone, somehow it was better to meet in person!”

Thank you to our diarists, for sharing their experiences during the year. If you would like to take part in the diaries, you can get involved here.

If you feel in need of support at the moment, we include some suggestions in our Help for Individuals page.