How to stay well during the coronavirus outbreak: tips for people with a mental illness

The coronavirus outbreak is having a big impact on our daily lives. We are having to social distance and even self-isolate, and some services are no longer accessible. This can create worry for anyone, and for those of us with an existing mental illness it can cause even greater anxiety.

But there are positive things we can do to maintain our mental health in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. Here are some tips for keeping well.


Keep accessing support for your mental illness

It’s vitally important that you look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak as well as following guidance on staying physically well.

If you are receiving mental health services then they should be putting in place contingency plans to continue to provide support – even though it may no longer be delivered in person. For example, telephone or video consultations may be set up instead of face-to-face meetings. If any appointments have to be cancelled then you should be informed in advance.

If you are concerned about any changes to the services you are receiving please make your feelings known and ask what alternative support can be put in place.

If you are receiving secondary mental health services you should have a care coordinator. Make sure you have up-to-date contact details for your care coordinator and keep in regular contact with them.

You may also have a carer or family member who provides support on a regular basis, but self-isolation and social distancing may reduce the amount of support they can provide. You and your carer can talk to your care coordinator or other members of the mental health team about how to prepare for this. Your care plan and/or a carer’s assessment may be the place to record these plans. If your carer is unable to support you for any period of time then social services should provide assistance.

Another key consideration is how to make sure you receive your regular medication during the outbreak. Despite social distancing rules you are entitled to go to the pharmacy to pick up repeat prescriptions, but follow the guidelines on staying safe. And remember, you shouldn’t visit a pharmacy, GP surgery or a hospital if you have the symptoms of coronavirus or someone else in your household does.

One alternative is to ask your pharmacy if they can deliver your medication. Support services may be able to deliver your medication to you if you are self-isolating – ask your care coordinator for more information. There are also online pharmacies you can use: in this instance the online pharmacy will deal directly with the pharmacist to get your medication in place and send it to your door. Finally, you can also ask someone else pick up your medication for you as long as you tell the pharmacy in advance.

If you take clozapine then make sure you have your regular blood tests, and seek advice if you have any symptoms of a cough or cold (as you will have been advised to when it was first prescribed).

There have been some temporary changes to the Mental Health Act in response to Covid-19: you can see details of the changes here. The changes are about practical matters like how many doctors need to be involved and timescales for operation of the Act.

If you are in hospital, visits may be restricted due to the coronavirus outbreak, so work with staff to see how you can find other ways to stay in touch (e.g. by Skype).

Finally, if at any point you are feeling anxious then please talk to someone. Many GPs now offer telephone consultations. Hafal runs an online community – Clic – where you can chat to others in a safe place. If you are feeling very distressed and struggling to cope then don’t hesitate to make contact with Hafal’s Promise, the Samaritans or CALL.

One good idea is to keep a diary which records all your appointments as well as the times when you need to take your medication. Another idea is to keep up-to-date details of emergency contacts and key care co-ordinators in one place. Also make sure you have access to up-to-date information on coronavirus – for example, from Public Health Wales.

In addition to the above there are some simple actions you can take to maintain your wellbeing during the outbreak, as follows:


Keep in touch

While seeing friends and family in person may not be possible during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to stay connected – whether it’s by phone, video call, email, text or social media. You may want to agree regular check-in times with family and friends, especially if you are self-isolating. There are safe online communities like Hafal’s Clic where you can talk safely to others about your mental health.


Don’t over-expose yourself to negative news

It’s important to keep informed about coronavirus but if you find that coverage is making you anxious, try and limit yourself to one reliable news source and check it only once or twice a day.

Misinformation can sometimes circulate on social media so if posts are distressing you, take a break from scrolling!


Keep your mind active

The outbreak is leading to fewer social gatherings, the closure of services and even self-isolation. So it’s a good idea to find new ways to stay stimulated. If you are self-isolating, giving your day structure can be a good idea, with different activities planned for different times – or even regular hours of work if you are working from home.

If you find it difficult to fill the time, why not try something new? It could be experimenting with a new recipe, reading something different, using the internet to find out about a particular subject, sewing, sourcing new music, origami, keeping a diary or blog, scrapbooking, watching a new box set… the list goes on!

For loads more ideas, click here.

However, also remember that the mind can be over-stimulated. For example, hours of video game-playing may disrupt sleep patterns and routines.


Look after your physical health

We all know that looking after your mental wellbeing means looking after your physical wellbeing.

First the obvious: if you are self-isolating it’s important to make sure you have a regular supply of food (and any medications that you need to take – see above). Friends, family, neighbours or colleagues may be able to help keep you supplied, and supermarkets are working on increasing their delivery services.

Eating healthily and keeping hydrated is key to staying well. If we’re stuck at home and bored there may be a temptation to overeat, drink too much alcohol, use stimulants to cope with anxiety, etc. Setting mealtimes and planning meals can help you to avoid binge eating and eat well. Keeping active and giving yourself things to do can prevent the need to use alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.

It’s also good to keep physically active – even if it’s spring cleaning, walking up and down the stairs or even doing exercises in your chair. Getting outdoors is even better, as long as it’s in a safe way that doesn’t bring you into close contact with others. Do you have a nearby park where you can go for a walk? Can you do some gardening?

Follow Hafal on social media for tips on staying active at home from Hafal’s Ambassador and rugby legend Dafydd James


Support other people!

Finally, it’s worth remembering that we’re all in this together – and there may be someone who you can support. Do you know of someone who lives alone, is vulnerable or who may be struggling at the moment? If you can, reach out to them – as long as it’s in a safe way. It may just be a phone call or a text. It could make all the difference to someone who is feeling isolated and lonely.


Have you got any suggestions for maintaining mental wellbeing throughout the coronavirus outbreak? Why not share your ideas on our online community Clic?

For more information on Hafal’s Promise – our pledge to our client group to provide ongoing friendly support and contact – please click here.