As the whole globe is gripped by Covid-19 and the United Kingdom government reluctantly but finally follows the advice and strategies of other European countries, by closing theatres, cinemas, pubs, cafes and schools, my latest post looks at the impact that self-isolation and ‘lockdown’ policies have on personal mental health and wellbeing. It draws on my personal experience and advice from organisations such as Mind. This post is a compilation of some of the resources I have gathered so far on the topic of coronavirus and measures put in place to keep people safe and healthy. We have never known a pandemic like this, one that affects everything and every single one of us. It also briefly includes some of the resources on online teaching and the wellbeing of teachers having to make the transition from classroom or face-to-face teaching.
If you have any comments or additional resources/links to add, please do so below.
We know that the mental health of people who go into a ‘lockdown’ situation can be adversely affected. The first city to be affected by this drastic measure was Wuhan, China. According to George Hu at Shanghai United Family Hospital:
“Many people have lost family members and are dealing with the trauma of that. And dealing with family members and loved ones who are sick, but their diagnosis has not yet been confirmed. That’s a heavy, heavy burden.”
However, the ‘lockdown’ has produced results and the rates of Covid-19 have not only levelled out now, but in the last couple of days, the Chinese province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak reported no new infections for the first time since the pathogen emerged more than two months ago, marking a turning point in an epidemic that’s infected almost 81,000 Chinese and threatens to push the world’s second-largest economy into its first quarterly contraction in decades. (Source: Fortune)
Cities in Europe have done similar and taken similar, quickly imposed drastic measures. Italy and Spain, in particular have seen their city streets eerily deserted. Every single European country has been affected in some way. But I want to focus attention on the UK at the moment.
In the UK, the government’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, along with chief science adviser, Patrick Vallance, have become well-known for their daily briefings. What appeared to be a slow response at first was based on a model where they did not want to panic people too early and that there were different stages to dealing with a epidemic such as this. One negative impact of social distancing can be that:
“it increases loneliness, reduce people’s ability to exercise and a whole other variety of negative consequentials from some of the interventions and if you do them too early, you get all the negatives, but you get a relatively small or almost non-measurable effect on the epidemic. So a lot of the timing questions are around how far along does it look as if actually the downsides of these interventions are justified by the upsides.” (Chris Whitty, speaking to reporters, 19 March)
Anxieties have increased considerably. As someone who has suffered in the past with mild and manageable anxiety, as well as acute anxiety, where I have been seen by a ‘crisis team’ or been taken to a secure unit, I know how to spot the symptoms and recognise the signs of this in others. Certain behaviours and underlying psychological factors cause humans to be impatient, rude and inconsiderate of others – see the ‘panic buying’ that has been going on in supermarkets across the country. So this post is about how, as individuals and members of society, we can look after ourselves and each other.
A good starting point is this BBC post by Kirstie Brewer. It is good to remember what the physical symptoms of this virus are and to take steps to prevent these. It is also worth stating that a lot of the significant changes to daily life, in the UK and elsewhere, are going to have an impact on people’s existing mental health conditions, not least anxiety-based disorders and hygiene based OCD.
Another good post comes from the Mental Health charity, Mind. In their extensive section on Coronavirus and your well-being, they share information to help you cope if:
- you’re feeling anxious or worried about coronavirus
- you’re asked to stay at home or avoid public places, for example if your employer asks you to work from home
- you have to self-isolate. This means you avoid contact with other people and follow strict hygiene rules. The NHS has advice about self-isolation in English and advice about self-isolation in Welsh. For how long to self-isolate, see the current government advice in English or the current government advice in Welsh.
And it also covers:
- Plan for staying at home or indoors
- Take care of your mental health and wellbeing
- Checklist: are you ready to stay at home for two weeks?
She also offered this pearl of wisdom on her private Facebook Group, Life Resourceful: Lightbulb moments:
I recently heard that apparently people have not only been stealing the hand sanitiser bottles on reception at the local hospital, but actually ripping the dispensers off the walls to take home. My first reaction was total disbelief that people could be so selfish and thoughtless, but when I considered it a little more, I realised that this kind of behaviour is what people do when they are completely consumed by fear. Most of us are feeling fearful at the moment, which is completely understandable. Many of those who are making a point of going out to the pub and so on are just as frightened underneath, but are choosing to push it down so they don’t have to (consciously) feel it.
As I was reminded recently by an event at the OPEN in Norwich, ‘mental health’ is something that we all have. It can be both negative and positive. A panel discussion about mental health in the workplace, which included the Norfolk based chef Charlie Hodson and Thriving Workplaces’ Shannon Turnbull, highlighted the support or lack of within the workplace. Shannon reiterated what myself and others like Natasha Devon have called for in terms of mental health first aid in the workplace being as commonplace as physical first aid.
Still in Norwich, psychotherapist, Michelle Mould of Anxiety UK, gave an interview on Friday 20 March to a BBC journalist Anita McVeigh. She was joined by social anxiety blogger, Phoebe Brown, who wrote this article in Huffington Post earlier this month. I captured this from BBC News and you can watch the interview below.
Now, with Covid-19, many people’s workplaces have changed or people have been told they cannot work or will no longer have a job. This includes my own brother, who was into his last few months for an outside catering firm, and now has almost no work until the end of employment. It also affects recently acquired friends, such as those who put on ‘Wuthering Heights’ at the Maddermarket Theatre and all those involved in Cinema City. One friend, Meriol Kitchell, was recently featured washing her hands on BBC Look East, during a feature on how St Martins homeless charity was dealing with the virus. Arguably the homeless and those who are rough sleeping have other things to worry about. This virus is indiscriminate. Meanwhile, the theatre has asked its customers who has booked tickets for upcoming productions, to imagine they have seen it as it bids to salvage money and survive this crisis.
Like many employers in the UK, my employer, Norfolk County Council, has issued guidance to working from home. In an email from head of service, Denise Saadvandi , sent out on 18 March it stated:
“Today is the first time in the history of our service that all staff have been working from home. It is going to be quite different, I know, in so many ways; but we will work hard to make sure that every member of staff feels included and part of our continuing service. We are working hard now to support out learners to achieve by switching as many of our courses as possible across to online or distance delivery and we are busy developing new online programmes that will support Norfolk residents at this incredibly difficult time. Please find attached some really useful information from an organisation called ‘My Whole Self’, which looks at various aspects of how to manage home working and stay both mentally and physically well. I would like us to take some of the ideas in this document and use them to stay in touch, both within our teams and as a whole service. I am particularly looking forward to the activity where we share pictures of our pets. My cat has slept through the entire working-from-home experience today.”
Creating and sharing a ‘My Whole Selfie’ is a fun way to show your authentic self to your colleagues. As the document states, it can help you feel connected even if you’re working remotely. Mental Health First Aiders have been called upon by the organisation that has trained thousands of people in the UK. With the virus heightening stress, anxiety and social isolation, Mental Health First Aiders and Champions are being asked to use their skills to support those struggling with their mental health by signposting them to the appropriate support, both in and outside of the workplace. Find out more about ‘My Whole Self’ at Mental Health First Aid England, who I have quoted extensively in the past, when I have presented on the Mental Health of language teachers.
As someone who also volunteers for the Learning Technologies Special Interest Group, I have an interest in how people adapt to working from home, which has been encouraged by many organisations where possible, and in online and remote teaching. As the LTSIG prepares a special edition of its newsletter, to be shared ‘open access’ with all IATEFL members, significant numbers of ELT related organisations have run webinars over the past couple of weeks, some of which have included both international student wellbeing and staff wellbeing as follows:
English UK have run a series of webinars over the last fortnight about how Covid-19 impacts teaching in our industry. Two of those sessions were given by Ruth Hughes, whom I had the pleasure of seeing at the English UK conference in London, January 2019, where I gave two presentations. Ruth Hughes drew on positive psychology in her first webinar on International student well-being. My second session at the English UK conference on well-being was inspired by Sarah Mercer’s Macmillan webinar on strategies to promote and protect language teacher well-being, which also heavily references Martin Seligman’s adapted PERMA+ model. Recordings of both webinars are available by clicking on the links. Ruth followed this with another session on staff wellbeing. All sessions required signing up to English UK. Click here for the recording.
Nick Robinson (ELT/LearnJam, Innovate ELT) presented a webinar from Barcelona on Thursday 19 March. Innovate ELT, usually held in the city, has just been cancelled. I previously shared ELT/LearnJam’s Mental Health matters 2015 post by Fiona Oates and Andrew Dodds. Nick also mentioned the work of Seligman’s Positive Psychology in his webinar, which is available to watch here. In this 30-minute webinar, Nick speedily ran through four tools and tactics from the world of psychology, including the image of a friend egg known as ‘The Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence’ (Covey, 1989) that have been helping him manage being on ‘lockdown’ in Spain, which, after Italy, has been the most seriously affected country in Europe to date. How we exercise control over what our parents do, which is a huge worry for many at the moment, was dealt with by Nick. I am in contact with my own parents on a daily basis as the crisis unfolds.
Other webinars have been given this week by @EdTech4Future, Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona (@SLBCoop), the British Council (with Paul Braddock, Lindsay Clandfield and Carol Rainbow) and someone called Happy Henry (links via Laura Patsko). On Tuesday 24 March, former LTSIG coordinator, Shaun Wilden will be giving this webinar for Oxford University Press on synchronous online teaching.
Several teachers have written about or been interviewed about the situation, especially those working in Italy. TEFL.com featured this post by Sarah Taylor in Sicily. The TEFL commute interviewed Kate Knight in Milan in an ’emergency’ podcast on the topic, and I have just interviewed #ELTchat contributor, Helen Legge, and primary learner expert, Marion Odell, for the upcoming special edition of the LTSIG newsletter, which will also feature Carol Rainbow. She has also just been involved in this article about online Adult English teaching published by Cambridge University Press.
There is a lot of advice out there about how to cope with anxiety and self-isolation, such as this useful video from the Guardian, part of their mental health section. In this video, the behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings has been talking through how to cope with these feelings, the ‘worry window’ and offering advice to those who have a fear of isolation. She also reminds us not to take everything we hear or read as truthful. There is a huge about of misinformation, especially on social media. I have already imposed a daily limit on how much time I spend watching the latest, dramatic news and my use of social media, which can be addictive but can excessive use can cause anxiety levels to be maintained. Switch off, get some exercise and plenty of sleep if you can.
Meanwhile, as the psychologist here states, several neighbourly Facebook groups have popped up over the past few week. I am now part of a local, Norwich-based Covi-19 Facebook support group, where people who are housebound or self-isolating can ask for help, such as locating or purchasing products that have sold out, due to demand and panic buying. It is broken down by postcode and there are WhatsApp groups for each area of the city. Many people are sharing their anxieties and worries in there, not least being unable to get hold of essential medicines, caring for members of their family and the uncertainty of how long this will all last.
Other more worldwide Facebook support groups include the ‘Staying Positive’ one, set up by former IATEFL president, Marjorie Rosenberg, Why set up new groups? Well, a lot of negativity and misinformation gets posted, as with all social media. This group has a specific remit not to do that, encouraging personal stories, jokes, beautiful scenes and, indeed, pictures of cats, as Marjorie states below:
“These days it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by the news reporting facts and figures about the crisis we are experiencing on a global level. The goal of this private group is to post something positive, share a joke, a story, a photograph, etc. to help all of us stay positive in these challenging times. This group consists of people from different areas of my life, some from my PLN (personal learning network), others from high school, some are friends in Graz or people I have gotten close to on social media. It’s lovely seeing the interaction taking part between every one.”
The aforementioned Rachael Roberts’ private Life Resourceful group is also great for getting members to understand the psychology of stuff, a place to share burdens and being a support network. It has an extensive set of units on different topics, all connected or related in some way to living our life better and more healthily. These include coping with stress, work/life balance and mindfulness. On 20 March, she ran a Facebook Live for worried parents on coping with anxious kids.
Let’s remember that things will change again, given time. This teacher in China shared this tweet reminding us all about how we can get through this together, while an old friend from my University of Warwick days, who is China, has shared this document with me. It’s a handbook of Prevention and Treatment compiled by medical professionals who have been working on the front line in China. You should be able to download it: Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment (pdf)
So in summary, I have mentioned quite a few resources on mental health, wellbeing and how to get through this ‘crisis’. However, it is just a drop in the ocean of all the useful resources that are out there. I put this post together fairly quickly over the past few days. Now it’s over to you. Please share this if you think it appropriate to your context. I also need your help. If you have any comments or additional resources/links to add, please do so below or send me a message on Twitter. I will add some Extra Resources as I come across them, too. I would like this post to grow. If anything shared is relevant, practical or useful, then I will add them below.
Stay safe and self-isolate as appropriate 🙂
Extra Resource #1: Georgina Dorr, an MFL teacher in Hanoi, shared this in a webinar hosted by Joe Dale on 23 March. The webinar slides were put together in less than 24 hours and the recording will be made available on his YouTube channel.