On Jan. 23, officials in China commenced a lockdown for the 11 million people living in the city of Wuhan. The day after, I touched down in London after a trip to see colleagues and clients in San Francisco and L.A., the twelfth trip in as many months.
On April 8, after 76 days sealed off from the world, Wuhan emerged from isolation. A few weeks earlier on the evening of March 23, in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced unprecedented shelter in place limitations. The next day, 66 million Brits joined the 330 million Americans and 750 million Europeans in lockdown.
The week prior to lockdown, I had undertaken mental health first aid training, which was a deep dive into understanding how to identify and support people who may need it in both my personal and professional life. As someone who has been challenged by my own mental wellness throughout my adult life, I have spent years educating myself on how to be better, set my own boundaries and fuel my own well-being.
The course consisted of workshops and practical skills to give an in-depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect well-being. It was something that as both a creative leader and a business owner, I value more highly than any other factors when considering how to develop a good working culture and optimizing output from a team.
We must all be aware of our own state of well-being and how to maintain positive practices that allow for good mental health. Better mental health is good for everyone, which in turn is good for society. And at this present moment, we are experiencing a collective drain on our abilities to manage the usual day to day. Over the past two months, we have seen an exponential increase in stress, fear and anxiety as Covid-19 amplifies our individual experiences, impacting every aspect of our life.
Wellness, in the traditional sense, has now become a privilege. Access to the tools, people, environments and resources that support mental well-being practices are simply unavailable—unless you have the cash to access them.
This is why leaning on virtual means of fulfilling our wellness needs has become more paramount than ever. While you can access an abundance of free meditation sessions or yoga workshops, sometimes you need to talk and work through your concerns in a more structured professional setting.
In the early days of the pandemic, the general message was to embrace this moment, climb into your cocoon and emerge a butterfly. Tone your body, fuel your mind, perfect makeup techniques, get skincare regimes on point, learn something new, exercise, bake, create. Earlier this month, The Economist reported on the boom in the wellness industry seeing yoga pants sales increase and at-home manicures on the rise.
And, of course, these all form part of our fundamental collective attitude to this unparalleled situation: to make the most of a bad situation. However, these wellness tropes miss the hardcore aspects of mental well-being. What we’re really asking is if we can pay the rent or have a job to return to. Are my family members safe? Can I provide? What comes next?
In my training, I was introduced to the core action techniques for mental health first aiders: ALGEE. This is the global framework within that we should adhere to when faced with situations that require support. ALGEE works well in practice, and it certainly gives a structure to how we should interact. However, when you apply a virtual lens to a situation, it becomes far more challenging to be an effective help and assistance to people.
A: approach, assess and assist with crisis
All the ways in which we should first attempt to evaluate an individual’s needs come with elements of physical assessment, such as body language or location. Doing this on Hangouts or WhatsApp becomes more challenging, but it’s certainly not impossible. Although it can be easy to miss some of the signs.
L: listen and communicate without judgment
In these times of Zoom/Hangout/live chat overload, it is additionally challenging to maintain a quiet level of non-judgemental communications. Try ensuring that you are checking in with your team, family and friends regularly and recognizing when too much for you is too much.
G: give reassurance and information
Trust that this may not always be the case. It’s hard to give remote reassurance when you can’t guarantee any outcomes. A mental health first aider’s role is to furnish a person with information that could help, and most of these resources are available online.
E: encourage the person to seek professional help
This is not always necessary but is an option. You don’t have to be everything to everyone, or even solve their worries. But you can point them in the right direction and give them the security and confidence to seek out the best approach for them.
E: encourage self-help and other support strategies
Often this is making sure a person has a supportive structure around them. It could be friends, housemates, family, other colleagues or even specialist groups and communities. Ultimately, it’s a support network that gives that person a sense of perspective and support.
Remember your feelings of loneliness and isolation right now are immediately countered by the sense of community that is springing up around us. The popularity of drinking, quizzes, working out, baking on Zoom and showing off on Instagram Live challenges the idea that you have to be physically present to be together.
Covid-19 has taken global society beyond the lipstick effect, from people buying affordable treats to make themselves feel better to a place with positive stories of people building connections and communities that actually mean something. Lockdown for me has imposed a sense of forced calm. No more monthly work trips to the U.S., enhanced connection with my family and friends (gin on a Hangout anyone?) and the occasional face mask.
I am aware this is a privilege and not a universal experience. The definition of wellness has been taken back to basics. Right now we all just want to feel human and connected.