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Opening up: A Thorny Issue (April 14th) by Oli

We appear to be approaching an important and crucial moment in the evolution of the pandemic. Both cautious and reckless leaders around the world are beginning to think about relaxing some of the social isolation and distancing policies in place. How to open up might prove to be much more difficult than the decision to impose the lockdown.

When the lockdown was announced, the UK were weeks or even months behind the restrictions in action in other countries, and many people were practicing self-isolation already, regardless of the official statements. Now we find ourselves once again a few weeks behind other countries, but this time it puts us in a difficult position as the return to “normal life” occurring in other nations is a tempting lure that can greatly influence popular opinion on the lockdown. Simply put, if restrictions are lifted too quickly, we risk a “second peak” of cases and the virus could rapidly infect the rest of the UK population.

However, even with the efforts to re-organise and support parts of our economy, pressure is mounting on businesses and services that cannot operate during a lockdown, leading to fears of widespread job losses. Prolonged unemployment along with the financial and social stress that comes with it, is associated with worse mental health. The impact of the pandemic on public mental health is a very real fear for many people, but on the other hand some have argued that politicians are likely to use the concerns around public mental health to justify actions that are primarily in the interests of industry and the financial markets. Finally, there is the question of social unrest, as time goes on, anger and frustration among those who have been particularly hard hit by the crisis could boil over into protest and upheaval. Deciding when to open up is a thorny issue indeed.

I’m now going to exploit a loose linguistic connection (again!) to talk about opening up in the context of talking about mental health. The one key parallel being that opening up about mental health is a careful balancing act between opening up too much or too little.

Not being open to discussing your own mental health with others can stifle opportunities to get support and learn from other people. A good personal example is that as a result of some frank and open discussions about my mental health with friends I have found out that some people around me have had similar experiences or know someone close to them that has been affected. Just merely knowing of people that have been through a comparable process has been helpful to put experiences that seem so idiosyncratic into perspective.

However, for me, opening up too much comes with the risk of over-sharing and over-exposure. I have some experience in this domain too. Having shared personal information on social media and also with colleagues in a previous job role, I found for myself what my personal limit is with opening up. I now try to gauge what the right level of information is for each person. I ask: will sharing this help me or anyone else? Do I need to say everything right now or can I come back to this? Of course, I greatly support initiatives such as “Time to talk” and do not doubt that talking is important. Considerations about how and who to open up to are subjective and change over time, but for each individual I think we can agree…it is a thorny issue.


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