Matt Ashton is the Director of Public Health for Liverpool City Council. Matt lives in the city and takes up the role at a time of unprecedented challenge. Matt was previously the Director of Public Health at the neighbouring Merseyside borough of Sefton Council. Liverpool was the first council in the country to appoint a Director of Public Health — the famous Dr Duncan — reflecting the importance of reducing health inequalities and health protection in the city. In a ground breaking partnership, Matt will also be working jointly with the University of Liverpool and holds the position of Honorary Professor, Department of Public Health and Policy.
I am sure that if you are anything like me you will be asking yourselves when will lockdown end, and what will life look like when it does. There is lots of talk currently about the “new normal” on the other side of the pandemic, whenever that will be. So many questions and not many answers in sight. This uncertainty can impact us all in so many ways which ultimately can have a bearing on our mental wellbeing.
We all like certainty. We are hard-wired to want to know what is happening. When things feel uncertain or when we don’t generally feel safe, it’s normal to feel stressed. This very reaction, while there to protect us (sometimes called fight or flight), can cause all sorts of havoc when there is a sense of uncertainty and conflicting information around us.
Right now, many of us are worried about COVID-19. The uncertainty might also connect to our uncertainty about other aspects of our lives, such as: when will you be able to hug and visit a loved one, have a meal in town, or even go on holiday.
In times like these, our mental health can suffer. We don’t always know that it is happening. You might feel more on edge than usual, angry, frustrated with others, sad or generally have a foggy head.
Sometimes people just need a helping hand and support with things like
Clearing their head
Lifting their mood
Having more energy
Being able to sleep better
And generally feeling stronger and healthier
In Public Health we love evidence, what has worked before! And evidence tells us that there are certain things we can do to help us feel less stressed and improve our mental health.
Stay connected – Staying in touch with family and friends is important for our mental wellbeing. You could try phone calls, video calls or social media instead of meeting in person.
Be active – Being active does wonders for your physical and mental wellbeing. We often think that mind and body are separate. But what you do with your body can have a powerful effect on your mental wellbeing.
Help others – Helping others can give us a sense of purpose, improve our feelings of self-worth and make us feel good.
Make time for yourself – Spend time doing the things you enjoy such as going for a walk, cooking, enjoying your hobbies, reading or having a bath.
Look after your body – making a few small changes such as eating well, drinking less and stopping smoking can make you feel good.
Money concerns – Particularly at this time you may feel worried and stressed about money. Free advice on money, debts, benefits and work issues is available.
For those that need extra support there are different levels of help out there.
There is a local service called the Life Rooms that offer a telephone and email support service for anyone needing advice on things such as housing, finances, employment, mental and physical wellbeing. The service is available Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm on 0151 478 6556 or email Liferooms.Support@merseycare.nhs.uk
There is also the Samaritans which I am sure you have all heard of. The Samaritans offer a friendly listening ear on the end of a phone 24/7. The service has been modernised and offers support no matter what your need and helps people with all sorts of things including isolation/ loneliness, anxiety, depression, concerns of life situations or just the need to talk to someone. The phone line is open 24/7 on free phone 116 123.
And in the meantime, while we are waiting for some of those answers to our questions over COVID19, there are probably a few things we can carry on doing to make it a bit easier
Remember that this won’t last for ever
Check in on colleagues and make sure they are ok
Be proud of the way the city has responded to this crisis, and remember the vitally important role we have all played in looking after our most vulnerable residents