• While the mental health of many has worsened as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, for some the change has relieved long-held feelings of depression and anxiety

  • Therapist Rachel Farhi explores why this might be and shares insights from her own practice

  • If your mental health hasn't improved in lockdown, our therapists and counsellors are available – find yours here 

A recent article in Therapy Today mentioned anecdotal evidence that some clients are experiencing a lessening of their depression and anxiety now that the nation is in lockdown. In my own practice, I have seen several clients for whom the lockdown is proving to be a welcome respite from the day-to-day pressures and unmet expectations of ordinary life.

It’s brokered a good question – why have these extraordinary events helped some people who were previously experiencing emotional distress? And how can we extend those feelings of wellness into the post-lockdown world that we are all awaiting?

Significantly, I believe that not all lockdown experiences have been equal ones. Living in difficult conditions, poverty, abusive relationships, and ill-health have all exacerbated tensions as the usual routes of escape have been blocked off. I’m aware of my own degree of privilege, in spite of being in a shielded household with all additional restraints that this implies – and, of course, I am grateful that I can continue to see clients via online platforms for therapy.

Why some people might feel better in lockdown

Some clients may feel that their struggles with anxiety and depression are now being validated on a macro level, as society is experiencing the anxiety and tension associated with the unknown. There is a sense that being anxious is now normalised, as we try to negotiate our way through life with the as-yet undefeated virus. Movements and gestures such as frequent handwashing, getting gloved-up and masked before going out, which once may have indicated an obsessive over-concern with catching germs, is now the new norm. And once a significant number of people have adopted a behaviour, this encourages a sense of being in tune with the signs of the times – a kind of herd instinct to conform, in which the original fear is now subsumed into the experience of the majority – a new normal, however clumsy and dysfunctional it may be to practice, yet a respite from feeling awkwardly ‘different’ due to personal distress.

Similarly, depressed clients may be feeling a sense of relief from the pressures which have brought them additional stress in pre-covid times. Being able to work from home for those fortunate enough to, has released permission to simply ‘be’, without needing to engage with the outside world and the tensions this can bring. The often impersonal and atomised experience of commuting has now been removed and replaced by using the time this has released for personal exercise or simply having a home-prepared breakfast and an easing into the workday. Clients have described to me their pleasure at being able to prepare their own (usually) healthy, meals instead of gulping down sandwiches and takeaways whilst running between appointments. Sleeping patterns, whilst still dominated by strange, disease-related dreams, have often stabilised as the source tensions of being caught within a fixed and unchosen routine have been lifted.

Rediscovering who we are

People are rediscovering the authenticity of their being. Sonia* (not her real name) described to me that she no longer feels ‘the tyranny of living the perfect lifestyle’, which included for her keeping up with her colleagues and peers in everything from ‘what I wear, to which places were cool to be seen hanging out at – even the kind of people I was dating. No one’s watching me, or judging me, or even if they are, I’m not feeling it in the same way. It’s freeing me up.’

Rediscovering that sense of satisfaction in simply being oneself is crucial to mental wellness and is one of the things that as a therapist I look for in my clients as a measure of their growth and progress in our therapeutic journey together. Often, clients have entered therapy because they have not yet been able to discover that sense at all, too bogged down have they been in the hamster-wheel of what our society prefers to think of as a ‘successful’ life.

This foul virus has forced us to look at ourselves in ways that may be uncomfortable, painful and truthful. For example, if we had previously spent all our energies on making money without understanding the value of human relationships, then this virus has exposed our lost focus – whether in the potential for loss (who might I lose to this?) or in the plain fact that all the money in the world cannot exempt me from the reality of my humanness. If a prime minister can have a brush with death, then who am I to avoid it also?

These are uncomfortable questions but necessary ones.

Perhaps you have been asking yourself some existential questions also. Or perhaps you may be struggling with very practical matters that the lockdown has brought into your life. Now may be the perfect time for you to address these issues within the safe space of therapy.

Taking the challenge of the therapeutic hour is often akin to what we are experiencing in the bigger picture at this time – a pause to unburden. A space in which to reflect. And a fellow human traveller to listen to you with compassion, not judgment.

Rachel Farhi is a verified welldoing.org therapist in SE London and online

Further reading

The covid-19 pandemic: a crash course in accepting uncertainty?

What does being authentic really mean?

Why do I have such mixed feelings about lockdown?

Identity and character work in therapy

Looking inwards: what will you find?

Self-care tips from an introvert: how to make the most of self-isolation