Practical advice for mental health support during the pandemic

anxious looking teenager sitting next to her bed

Mental health experts from Good Thinking give advice on how to get help for your mental health if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression

This has been a tough time for a lot of people. Cancelled exams, school, college and university closures and restrictive social distancing guidelines mean that students in particular have had to deal with a huge amount of change and upheaval.

In a poll published by TSR in April 2020, the lack of certainty around education was found to be the number one factor affecting mental health. And in another poll published in October, 77% of students said they were not confident they could find support for their mental health if they needed it during the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can read stories that members of the TSR community have shared about their experiences with mental health issues in this thread

We spoke to consultant psychiatrist and clinical director Dr Richard Graham from digital mental wellbeing service Good Thinking to get some advice for students who are struggling with their mental health and are not sure where to turn.

More useful links: TSR’s mental health forum

How to recognise if you have anxiety or depression

Understanding your mental health

Anxiety disorders and depression are both very common. The charity Mind says that one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.  

Although anxiety and depression can feel very overwhelming, there are plenty of ways you can get help and manage your symptoms.

When it comes to understanding anxiety and anxiety disorders, Richard recommends reading this article on the symptoms of anxiety and this article on types of anxiety disorder.

Good Thinking also has this article on symptoms of mood disorders such as depression and this article on types of mood disorders.

If you’re struggling to pinpoint how you’re feeling, Richard suggests taking a self-assessment quiz to get a better grasp on it.

“The self-assessments that are provided on Good Thinking are clinically validated and ask the questions that a doctor or psychologist would ask,” Richard says.

“They are quite medical, but will give you a good sense of what you are struggling with. You can even do one for someone you might be concerned about,” he adds.

You can find the self-assessment for anxiety on Good Thinking here, and the depression self-assessment here.

More like this: advice for students dealing with depression

Getting help for your anxiety and depression

If you think you have an anxiety disorder or depression, it’s really important to talk to somebody about it.

“It’s worth remembering that if you are really struggling, don’t suffer alone. Letting a trusted adult in your life know how you feel can be really helpful, even if they don’t have any magic solutions,” Richard says.

“And there are also amazing new services like Shout, where you can talk to a trained counsellor using SMS texts if you feel you don’t know where to turn. You don’t have to be feeling really bad to do that, or in crisis. People are there, ready to help, when that works for you,” Richard adds.

To use Shout, you can text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 at any time of day or night.  

Once you've asked for help, "depression and anxiety are most often treated with psychological or talking therapies. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is most commonly offered today, and it can help you manage your thoughts and feelings," Richard explains. 

"But sometimes other approaches such as counselling are more suitable for some people. In other situations a doctor or therapist may think medication could also help, and there are different types of medication that can be used, most often antidepressants," Richard adds. 

"There are many things that a doctor or therapist will take in to consideration when offering you a particular treatment, and it is a good idea to try and understand those reasons. In the end, what happens next should be a joint decision, and you should have some idea of the benefits and any downsides to a particular approach."

sad teenager looking at phone

Apps and online resources that can help you manage your symptoms

Alongside this, there are also a few other things you can do to help manage your symptoms, Richard says.

For anxiety, Richard says that if “you want to try something quickly and without too much commitment, you could try ways of relaxing by listening to a soothing guided meditation from Meditainment. If you register for these before December, you can get free lifetime access to the library of Meditations here.”

“For something more intensive, the general anxiety workbook from the Centre for Clinical Interventions is excellent, and is used by many psychologists in the NHS. You can print it off and use it when you can,” Richard says.

You can find the depression workbook from the Centre for Clinical Interventions here.

“There are other workbooks on health anxiety and on mindfulness. All of these are free for you to use,” Richard suggests.

“If you prefer to use your phone, there are also some great apps  and we have listed what we think are some of the best out there for anxiety at Good Thinking here. At the moment these are all free for people who live or work in London, including students,” Richard says.

“Be Mindful is probably the most intensive, and does require some commitment, but is as effective as seeing a psychologist for many people,” he finishes.

You can also take this quiz to find the right anxiety resources for you, and this quiz to point you towards useful resources if your mood is low.

If you're feeling depressed, Richard suggests speaking to the suicide prevention Papyrus. You can call their Hopeline anonymously on 0800 068 41 41. 

"If you would like to boost your mood with an intensive workbook, you can download the Back from the Bluez workbook," Richard adds.

For depression, he says that "apps like tomo can be particularly helpful, as it is based on a therapy used for treating depression called behavioural activation. But other approaches can help too, from brain-training games to mindfulness apps. You can find a selection of ones that may help you here."

But, Richard stresses, "more important than any of these resources is this advice: if your mood is low, and it is starting to affect your life in any way, let someone know and don’t feel afraid to seek help."

If you’re feeling more generally worried by coronavirus and all the changes caused by social distancing, Good Thinking has this list of resources and advice for young people.

The NHS also has a dedicated hub to help young people with mental health support and self-care tips

More like this: advice for students dealing with anxiety

student on their mobile phone

Will I still be able to get mental health support during the pandemic?

The short answer is, yes – whether you’re already getting support or it’s something you want to start, help is still available.

Although you may not necessarily be able to see your counsellor or other support person face-to-face depending on social distancing guidelines, you should be able to still do it over the phone or online, the Good Thinking website says.

“A survey by YoungMinds in March 2020 found that three quarters (74%) of young people are still able to access some form of mental health support, even if the service has been adapted because of the coronavirus outbreak,” the Good Thinking website says.

“If you’re worried about having your appointment over the phone or by video while you’re at home (because of lack of privacy from other family members or housemates), let your support worker know,” Good Thinking suggests.

If you’re on any medication, you should also be able to get this in the usual way, but GPs and pharmacies might be a bit busier than usual.

Because of this, Good Thinking advises that you “plan ahead and order it sooner than you would normally so you can be sure you don’t run out – maybe put a reminder on your phone for 5-7 days before you need it”.

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