REPORT
Oct 8, 2021
How are wellness-focused Britons practicing self-care?

The COVID-19 pandemic plunged Britain into a mental health crisis. With depression on the rise and a health system under pressure, what have people been doing to manage their emotional and mental wellbeing? Canvas8 spoke to eight individuals from across the UK to find out.

Highlights
Data

Sabrina Faramarzi is a trend forecaster, futures researcher and journalist who’s obsessed with all things trend, innovation and design. When she’s not uncovering patterns across socio-cultural phenomena, she can be found at the latest electronic music night, swimming marathon lengths at her local pool, or worshipping cats on the internet.

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Scope

The global outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 prompted an international mental health crisis, with research from the World Health Organization revealing that critical mental health services were either disrupted or halted in 93% of countries worldwide. [1] In the UK specifically, mental health issues have represented the most common medical complaint among employees since 2019, with over a third feeling that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. [2]

In an October 2021 speech, Sajid Javid, the Secretary of Health and Social Care, claimed that the UK’s mental health landscape had “seen a decade of change crammed into just two years.” [3] Yet while healthcare apps and telehealth platforms have broadened access to support, many of those experiencing mental health issues continue to be underserved. Lockdown restrictions not only impacted routine appointments but also prevented some people from seeking aid in the first place. Indeed, the number of GP-diagnosed cases of adult depression fell by 24% between March and August 2020 – in line with other non-COVID-19-related conditions – as people were reluctant to visit doctors' offices. [4]

So, how have people been navigating the mental health challenges posed by the pandemic? How are they monitoring and maintaining their wellbeing outside of traditional medical channels? Canvas8 spoke to eight people from across the UK to find out.

New creative solutions

One of the ways that I take care of my mental health is that I started a podcast where I talk about it. I've always felt like talking about it made me feel a little better or made me feel like I’m talking to people that can understand me. 
Chidera, 22, London

Asking for help

I think mental health still seems to be a taboo subject, and I'd like to see more being done to promote mental health awareness in terms of making sure people know it's okay to ask for help. I'm too aware from my previous role that, a lot of the time, people struggle with it for years before coming forward, and that actually caused their mental health problems to get worse.

Simon, 54, Nottingham

Education is key

YouTube has been an excellent source of information. You can be taught by some of the smartest, funniest, cleverest, warmest people in the world, including celebrities and people you admire. But as someone who's had anxiety and depression throughout my life, I've had to learn a lot of self-guided techniques because I would say that 75% of the mental health side of support within the UK is actively damaging.

Colin, 51, Southampton

Group support

The thing that has helped me a lot is my youth group for all around the UK. I arrived to them struggling with my mental health, but now, with the tips that I've learned and applied, I've seen a difference. Something that I would like to see more of is positive influences online and on social media with more helpful tips.

Priscilla, 20, London

People appreciate the open conversations afforded by online platformsMichael Burrows (2021)

Exercise to clear the mind

I've used lots of different things for my mind, but I think the most effective has been exercise – getting out and about on my mountain bike. [It] clears my head and is good for seeing the countryside and forgetting everything.

Warren, 56, Halifax

Professional services

I found the Calm app very helpful when I can't sleep at night or when I just need to find some peace for a bit. I would like to see more services for mental health, especially postpartum. I think doctors and nurses should ask about your mental health a lot more in appointments – that would be really helpful.

Amy, 22, London

Structural change

I track my mood and wellbeing with an app. On a more pragmatic level, I have a sunlamp that I use, particularly now that it's getting darker and the nights are drawing in. I'm very privileged in that I can pay for private therapy, but a lot of people can't and, in the past, I've had to use the NHS, which was quite limited in terms of the number of sessions and types of therapy.

Suzanne, 37, Oxford

Physical release

I think the number one thing that helped me was listening to podcasts dedicated to the subject [featuring] people around my own age that have been through the same thing. I've learned that the number one thing is just talking to someone that you trust and getting it off your chest and off your mind. I also think it's so important to have a dedicated mental health person or outlet at work. The workplace is a difficult place for people to deal with stuff that’s happening outside of work and then put on a brave face.

Manel, 24, London

Tech has transformed how people seek mental health supportArtem Podrez (2020)

Insights and opportunities

Make conversations about mental health part of the workplace

Shortly after the UK’s furlough scheme – which helped pay the wages of 11.6 million workers during the pandemic – came to an end in September 2021, the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland asked for a ‘Future of Work Commission’ to ensure that post-pandemic labour practices would support mental wellbeing. [5] Some of the organisation’s ideas included new measures to reduce job insecurity and an investigation into the benefits of shorter working hours, with senior policy manager Toni Giugliano stating that “poverty, job insecurity, and under-employment are among the root causes of poor mental health.” [6] Recognising the need to address the gaps in support caused by the pandemic, the government has launched a £500 million mental health recovery plan to help thousands of people with mental health issues. [7] However, many employees would also like their employers to lend a hand. “I also think it's so important to have a dedicated mental health person or outlet at work,” says Manel, a 24-year-old from London. “The workplace is a difficult place for people to deal with stuff that’s happening outside of work and then put on a brave face.”

Representation breaks down barriers

People of all ages are seeking support in alternative online spaces, where an openness about taboo topics makes them feel seen and supported. “I think mental health still seems to be a taboo subject, and I'd like to see more being done to promote mental health awareness in terms of making sure people know it's okay to ask for help,” says Simon, 54, from Nottingham. Several other respondents noted that YouTube videos, podcasts, and celebrities talking about their mental health struggles have changed the way they think of their own mental health issues, particularly for young people, many of whom feel that adult settings cause them distress in a mental health crisis. [8] Others have turned to mindfulness and mood tracking apps such as Calm to get them through the day. Research conducted on the use of the NHS mood tracking app, BlueIce, showed that young people reported feeling it was a useful way to track their moods and gain new strategies to manage thoughts of self-harm. [9] Across sectors, it’s clear that expertise is well-received when it comes through more accessible and less formal channels.

Community service

In April 2021, an analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists highlighted that the NHS was struggling to cope with the surge in demand for mental health services – a problem that only grew in the summer, with data revealing that referrals to psychiatrists rose by 24% year-on-year in June. [10][11] With formal avenues for support under strain, platforms that foster safe communities have an increasingly vital role to play, particularly those that focus on connecting individuals over shared experiences. Komodo is one business already doing this, bringing students in New Zealand together to discuss mental health.