As a Mental Health Practitioner serving the Reigate area I have been interested in discovering how healthy Reigate might be and what residents can do to get mentally fit for the challenging times ahead. We are coming out of the current peak and potentially into a deep recession but still, there is much to be grateful for and there is action we can all take to benefit us and our families, work colleagues and friends in the months ahead.
Surrey COVID – 19 Statistics (We do not appear to have Stats specifically for Reigate)
Knowlege is power. There has been one further death related to coronavirus recorded across Surrey in the past 24 hours, according to NHS data released today (May 24). Across the UK, 36,914 people have now passed away after testing positive for Covid-19, and there are now 261,184 lab-confirmed patients. This represents a rise of 121 and 1,625 respectively in the past day. In Surrey, the death toll now stands at 1,084 – an increase of 1 from yesterday (May 24). There are now also 2,903 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the county, a rise of 42, according to figures released by Public Health England. (from #getsurrey)
There are more than one million people who live in Surrey. Every single case is concerning and every death tragic but it is important to put things into perspective. Each evening there is a news briefing and it is possible to see the curve going down. This should be a cause for positivity. The peak occurred in our region weeks ago and plans are in place to get Reigate up and running again, slowly and with great care. The word from some newspapers is that the UK is Back in Business. There will be exceptions where families have had devastating experiences and for them, their mental health will be suffering.
I carried out a small poll on a local Reigate Facebook group (reach 1,386 people) asking the question, “How do you think people are feeling emotionally right now?”
The majority thought people were feeling ‘Pretty OK’. This was good to see. Then we had Trapped, Stressed or Anxious. Pretty OK came out tops by quite a long way. Reigate is a beautiful town and very popular with families. We are surrounded by incredible walks and nature. Our schools are Outstanding and for the most part, the town benefits from a good standard of living. This might be one reason that the people of Reigate seem to be in a strong position mental health wise. The feeling being trapped can be alleviated by getting outdoors which is now much more accessible.
Reigate High Street
As the shops begin to open and we embrace the ‘new normal’, what will Reigate High Street look like in a few months time? Before lockdown I had a couple of fabulous afternoons perusing some new shabby chic shops. The town had a feel of Brighton about it. For two months we have got used to seeing empty pavements and boarded up shops. Since lockdown has been slightly lifted a new Lebanese Restaurant (Labnani) is already doing Stirling business and Pilgrim Brewery have been non-stop with take away ales and lagers. How many of these shops will remain when we come out of lockdown completely? Talking to friends locally there are troubling times ahead, especially for sole traders and small to medium-sized businesses.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress is something that is happening at the moment and anxiety is a perceived threat. Both create physical feelings such as quickening of the breath and heart rate, sweaty palms, head and muscle aches and all sorts of digestive problems to name but a few. We don’t know if COVID – 19 will return. We may not know if we have a job in a few weeks time. Worries about our health, relationships and finances are constant. It’s important to work with what we do know. What evidence do we have that something is going to go wrong? Can we reframe situations to produce a positive outcome and what can we do every day to help ourselves feel better?
We can take advantage of our beautiful surroundings and get out in nature. We can improve our sleep to stop the cycle of tiredness, anxiety, negative thinking and return to bad sleep. We can eat healthy, avoiding too many carbs, processed foods and sweet treats. We can cut down on caffeine, alcohol and quit smoking to improve lung function. We can drink more water, exercise and rebook those medical and dental appointments that have been lost.
Domestic Abuse in Reigate and East Surrey
Michelle Blunsom, MBE and CEO of East Surrey Domestic Abuse Service (ESDAS) points out in a recent article that perpetrators often attempt to isolate their partners from family, friends and their Community and the pandemic provides them with an increased ability to do so.
Bullying, gas lighting, coercive and threatening behaviour as well as actual violent abuse can lead to feelings of acute anxiety, depression and overwhelm for victims. For anyone suffering from domestic abuse they can contact www.esdas.org.uk or phone Mon – Fri on 01737 771350. Domestic abuse can happen in any town and to anyone. There is support.
Children and mental health
We are fortunate in Reigate to have many facilities and experiences in which to keep our children’s mental health in good order. This does not mean that every child in Reigate has good mental health. Parents may have difficulty in getting childcare and working from home can be leading to tension. More hours may be spent on phones and computer games. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Anxiety can be reduced by keeping a link with friends through social media and gaming. It is for children and parents to agree how much phone and play time is acceptable.
With confusion about returning to school anxiety levels may well increase for parents and children alike. Children will be missing their friends. Social distancing at school may have its own difficulties. Who will go to school, who won’t? This can lead to social issues amongst friendship groups. Schooling is vital. When should it commence? Children may already be dealing with special needs and mental health issues and the pandemic may be making their issues worse. Or they could be improving them.
A recent survey in Families magazine among one thousand parents showed that 52% said lockdown had a positive impact on their family in terms of becoming closer and enjoying spending time together and 58% said they will make changes after the UK is COVID free from what they have learned. I wonder in years to come what our children will remember from this incredible historic experience? Will they say “Not much. I hung out with my friends on Xbox as usual” or will they say, “This was my favourite year, ever. I got to spend so much time with Mum and Dad and we did loads together!” Children are resilient and adaptable. Chances are they have taken this crisis on the chin and will come out of it unscathed. They haven’t had bombs falling on their heads and adversity can make them a lot stronger.
Reigate film about OCD
Oakhill Production’s eighteen minute long film For Want of a Nail, which was made in Reigate, follows the story of Marty and his struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (available on Youtube). It’s a great film made by some Reigate artists and certainly worth a view. I have been seeing clients who suffer with OCD and who suffer with intrusive thoughts. This health crisis has been particularly hard for those coping with cleaning compulsions. Interestingly enough, I have had positive feedback with those suffering high anxiety who, during coronavirus, have been focusing on particular projects in the safety of their own homes which have really helped their symptoms.
Working from home
There have been benefits for many being able to spend more time at home and this may well change the way thousands work. This can take pressure off the transport system, improve air quality and lower stress levels. Bringing families together is surely a good thing. Zoom, Wattsapp and Skype have enabled people to meet in ways they never thought they would and relationships have been built or have grown with this method of communication. Perhaps the Reigate workforce will take on multiple opportunities while working from home. Being able to take regular breaks and make creative choices all help with mental good health.
As lockdown progressed I joined the Reigate and Redhill COVID mutual Aid Facebook Group. It was incredibly heartwarming to see so many people volunteer and getting out of their comfort zones to help others in need. I have no doubt that through these shared experiences many Reigate people have made new friends, drawn the Community together and have benefited by helping others. In fact an article in Psychology today found many examples of how doing good, in ways big or small, not only feels good, but also does us good. For instance, the well-being-boosting and depression-lowering benefits of volunteering have been repeatedly documented.
The COVID – 19 health crisis will have many ramifications for the wellbeing of Reigate’s population. The elderly feeling lonely and isolated. Their families feeling detached from loved ones or even going through bereavement. Trauma from not being able to say goodbye to family members or friends. Children missing their friends and worried about school. Work, relationships, weight gain, habit formations, lack of sleep. Many of us have lived a belt and braces existence up till now. We’re about to embark on a new phase. This is the time to get everyone’s mental health and emotional wellbeing in the best condition it can be so that we can all feel calm, happy and resilient for the times ahead. A good place to start is www.counselling-directory.org.uk which lists trusted therapists in your area who have been vetted by recognised authorities who are answerable to Government.
We should continue to work together as a wonderful Reigate Community to help each other and break the stigma that surrounds mental health for good.