My own experience during the pandemic
I don’t know about you, but when the pandemic hit here in Canada in March 2020, a cold chill went right through me. Why? Because I knew from previous crushing experience that even a minor physical illness (say, a cold, or an everyday injury like a pulled tendon) had the potential to derail my bipolar recovery and throw me into a dreaded depression.
In my memoir, Mad Like Me: Travels in Bipolar Country, I have a section titled Learn about your triggers, in which I explain that I used my detailed notes and charts to analyze my triggers for both depressive and (hypo)manic episodes:
From the analysis I did, I learned that triggers for depression included my emotional reaction to a family drama in which I had become emotionally over-involved, getting sick with a bad cold, feeling uncomfortable in a social situation, attending a wedding, and a work-related deadline. Triggers for (hypo)mania included going on vacation, seasonal change (springtime), lack of sleep, stress around the time of my mom’s death, and starting on Epival. There were also a few cases where I could identify triggers that pulled me back from depression and brought me into normal mood: work-related travel (three times), a trip to a cottage with all five children present, and starting on Seroquel. … Because a bout of sickness triggered a depression, I now get flu shots every year. (I never used to do so.) (p272–3)
🔹 Do you have similar mood swings in reaction to a physical illness? And if so, have you also become somewhat obsessive about staying physically healthy at all costs?
As a result of my trigger analysis, I became hypervigilant about any possible exposures to the COVID-19 virus. I all but refused to go grocery shopping. I wore a mask before this was recommended by public health authorities. I refused to see friends and neighbours long before formal lockdown measures were introduced. I basically went into a self-imposed hibernation, curled protectively around my precious and hard-won mental health recovery.
I know my family thought I was over-reacting, but I knew better than anyone just what was at stake. I would do anything to safeguard my sanity!
Recent mental health research from the UK
Then just today, I came across a recent study titled “Mental health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic” published in The Lancet Psychiatry. This team assessed the mental health of over 19,000 adults in the United Kingdom between the onset of the pandemic in April 2020 and October 2020.
They isolated 5 groups:
Some people (38%) experienced and maintained “very good” mental health during the months of the study.
Others (39%) experienced “good” mental health during those months.
A third group (12%)—the “recovering group”—showed worsened mental health during the first shock of the pandemic, but then bounced back to pre-pandemic levels by October 2020. The two remaining groups showed poor mental health throughout the months of study, and these groups are of greatest interest to me (and you, presumably, since you’re reading this blog).
One group (7%) reported little initial effect, but then experienced a slow and steady decline in mental health over the months of study.
A small but still significant group (4%) suffered an initial worsening that was then sustained throughout the study.
🔹 Which of these 5 groups do you think you would be in?
So in total, 11% of the general population (groups 4 and 5 above) experienced a decline in mental health during the first six months of the pandemic in the UK.
🔹 Now, can you guess which groups of people were over-represented in the last two groups above? Wealthy people? White people? Employed people?
People with pre-existing mental ill-health.
Or a pre-existing physical illness.
People experiencing financial difficulties.
And—get this—people who got infected with COVID-19.
All these groups were at higher risk of experiencing a decline in mental health.
Now I can tell my family I was right all along to be super-vigilant about not catching COVID-19! I value my mental health way too much to put it at risk.
Given all this, please take extra care of yourself!