One in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, and one in six report experiencing a common mental health issue such as anxiety or depression in any given week, says the charity Mind.
And since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the UK has seen the spread of another, quieter pandemic. A third of adults say their mental health worsened during this period: anxiety and depression has spiked, and one in nine young people told Mind that, thanks to lockdown, loneliness has harmed their mental well-being.
The World Health Organization reports that global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 per cent during the first year of the pandemic.
Now, a year on from the relaxation of lockdown rules, what problems are we experiencing and what questions do we want answered?I asks therapists from across the UK about the most common questions they hear.
“Why am I so unhappy as a single person?”
Simone Bose from London is a relationship counselor at Relate. About 10 per cent of her clients are dealing with infidelity in their relationships and she helps them work through this issue.
However, she also sees a lot of single people who feel disenchanted – a poll published in September by Related found many people in their 20s and 30s feel milestone anxiety – the worry about not having a partner, children, or not having bought a house.
“I get a lot of single people who are frustrated and have low self-esteem from dating,” Bose tells I. “They want to build their confidence and feel better about themselves. So, some people aren’t even bothered about meeting someone, they’re just wanting to be able to feel good about themselves and deal with that identity as a single person.”
Single or not, there is a connecting theme across Bose’s customers. “Often the root of all these problems is based around a lack of intimacy,” she says. “Because my patient may be too busy or they’re too stressed or things in their life take over, and they’re not able to be as vulnerable as they could [with another person].”
“Why don’t I feel better yet?”
A common concern when seeing a therapist is the speed of “recovery”. Jackie Rogers, an accredited BACP therapist in Burton-upon-Trent. said: “After two or three sessions, a lot of patients ask why they don’t feel noticeably better”.
They want to have a definitive timeline. However, “’getting better’ varies from person to person and depends on each person’s support network, self-compassion and self-care,” she tells I. “As a society we want to run before we can walk and have no patience with ourselves.
“We are looking for quick fixes and when we are not getting the quick fix we can feel as though we are doing something wrong, or like we have failed in some way.”
“What’s wrong with me? Everyone else is coping”
We often hear about comparison culture, fueled in particular by the prevalence of “highlight reels” on social media, but Rogers says one of the most common questions she hears is why other people seem to be coping better than we are – particularly people who are worried that they are markedly different from their friends and family.
“When we begin to struggle in life we can perceive other people as ‘coping’ or ‘managing’,” says Rogers. “When we are struggling we look inwards and begin to blame ourselves or see others as being better than us, making us very self-critical.”
But people are dealing with many real issues and we must have compassion for ourselves, she adds. “Many people are struggling with so much loss and bereavement, be this through losing someone they love, employment restructuring, burnout, job loss or relationship break-up.
“These events are stressful enough on their own – however when you factor in the past two to three years of living through the pandemic and the uncertainty of the future, it can make these issues more overwhelming and seem unmanageable.”
“Why don’t I recognize who I am?”
Denise Freeman, a registered therapist based in Manchester, says she sees a lot of people going through periods of transition and in particular has noticed a rise in the number of women seeking help as a result of the menopause. “These women that come to me usually don’t realize that it’s the menopause that is causing their problems,” she says.
Symptoms of the menopause can include brain fog, anxiety and mood swings. “It can really impact jobs and relationships. Women will usually come to me and say, why don’t I recognize who I am anymore? Or should I leave my partner?” says Freedman.
“But when we investigate those feelings, it’s often linked to the hormonal changes of the menopause. I have seen such an increase. I think because, as a society, we are becoming more aware of the negative impact menopause can have.”
“Should I leave my job?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, since lockdown Nicola Saunders, a registered therapist based in Derby, has noticed a spike in work-related anxieties. “Nowadays, a lot of my patients are asking me, why do I have to go back to the office?” says Saunders.
“When people were working from home, they got used to just being their normal selves,” says Saunders. “They got used to not having to wear a professional mask for several years, whether that be their make-up, or their behavior. They didn’t have to perform. Now, people are having to perform again by going back to the office and this is causing a lot of anxiety.”
Freeman agrees that the workplace and a return to expectations around office presenteeism are causing a lot of stress currently for her clients: “A lot of my clients are experiencing stress because they used to be able to balance their life more.
“They got used to a way of working, at home, but now they are being asked to go back and are allowed less flexibility. Now a lot of my clients are asking me whether they should leave their job.”