Written by Rachael Kelly
Illustrated by Jennifer Backman
2020 is the year that took the biscuit. It seems Lady Luck has chucked everything at us but the kitchen sink. Just last week I had to be reminded that the catastrophic Australian bushfires happened this year. Do you remember that? That natural disaster we thought was the defining calamity of the year? Oh, to be that young and naïve again.
Since then, we’ve seen: Iran and the US at loggerheads, Harry and Meghan resigning from royal duties, 176 passengers killed in a Ukrainian aeroplane crash, Trump’s failed impeachment, Love Is Blind and Tiger King air, Kobe Bryant’s death, Brexit, Weinstein’s rape charge, a postponed Olympics, the tragic murder of George Floyd which sparked BLM protests, anti-BLM protests, toppled statues, the Madeleine McCann breakthrough and all of this, under the harrowing shadow of a global pandemic. Coronavirus seems to be the cherry on top of an utterly dismal cake.
As we have now seen an ease in restrictions and a lifting of lockdown, let’s reflect on the extraordinary impact Covid-19 has had on the UK and its populace.
For me, pandemics were confined to pirate-centric recountings of scarlet fever or futuristic imaginings of a zombie apocalypse. In my privileged bubble, I never once envisioned a natural disaster that would physically, mentally or financially impact myself or my circle.
But here we are, on the other side of a 5 month long lockdown. Covid-19 has defined the millennium with the biggest security threat to our current way of life. Across the world, people have lost loved ones, livelihoods, homes, routines, education, opportunities and security. Extraordinary decisions and measures have been put into place in an effort to curtail the effects and spread of the virus.
The effectiveness of those measures is debatable. To date, the UK has had 309, 005 confirmed cases and a shocking 46, 511 deaths. In fact, we’ve come out of the pandemic with the highest number of deaths per million people than any country in the world. Why we handled the pandemic so poorly is open to discussion, but I’d argue our preoccupation with Brexit and our amoral prioritisation of the economy cost us thousands of lives.
In comparison, New Zealand suffered just 4 deaths. Their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spearheaded a ruthless early lockdown that restricted the spread. Globally, we’ve lost 661, 244 to the virus.
The hardest measure for many young Brits to stomach (and stick to) was lockdown. From 23rd March, UK residents were asked to stay in their homes, leaving their households for essential purposes only. The liberal, consumptive and gratifying lives many of us were used to were derailed seemingly overnight.
Whether holed up with family or locked up alone, we were each forced into relative isolation. Inevitably, this impacted our mental well-being as socialising greatly contributes to our overall happiness.
In fact, you’re likely to be twelve times happier if you spend a quarter of your day with friends or family. It’s no surprise then, that almost a quarter of UK adults who adhered to lockdown reported feelings of loneliness and concerns for their long-term well-being.
For those of us with pre-pandemic mental health issues, we had the added strain of our routines, resources, services, checkups and progress being disrupted. An escalation in conditions like anxiety and depression was inevitable, enforced social isolation playing a huge part in this.
We were then introduced to the strange concept of ‘bubbles’ on 13th June. Social bubbles came with unclear and increasingly bizarre regulations on who could and couldn’t be in your bubble.
In effect, 13th June marked the end of lockdown, the momentum continued by non-essential shops opening on 15th, Premier League Football returning on 17th, un-quarantined trips to Spain allowed on 22nd, and social distancing being reduced to 1m on 23rd. Aside from mandatory face masks, we’re seeing a return to normality and our social calendars are filling up.
Whilst we’re revelling in our new social freedoms and are recovering well from lockdown loneliness, our bank accounts aren’t bouncing back quite as fast. Covid’s ramifications have been far reaching, a whopping 150, 751 of us having been made redundant, with millions facing cut hours.
For the past four months, I’ve been one of the 9.5 million Britons on furlough. What I first saw as a period of free time, free money and freedom, was swiftly replaced by feelings of ‘fur-low’. As return to work dates were continually extended, anxieties around job and financial security reared their ugly heads.
Personally, the sheer volume of free time left me paralysed into inactivity. When asked what I did with all that time off, I was torn between jumping out of the nearest window or self-imposing my own social distancing. The unspoken pressures to be productive, write a novel, learn a language and take up crochet were quite debilitating. Couple this with the inability to work or contribute to a capitalist society and you have the perfect recipe for a depressive episode with a side helping of self-loathing.
And this dilemma works in reverse! Where I had an abundance of free time, millions of people juggled the roles of worker, carer, teacher, partner and parent around the clock. With little change in landscape, limited resources and diminished support, lockdown wore thin on many families.
Now covid measures are easing and businesses are better able to predict their financial stability, redundancies and pay cuts are sweeping the nation, hitting many families and households whilst they’re most vulnerable.
Relationships have been strained both by lockdown and the financial ramifications of the pandemic. A boom in both babies and divorces is forecast for 2021, divorce inquiries having already risen by 40% during the pandemic.
However: the pandemic and events of 2020 have sparked unprecedented amounts of camaraderie and calls for positive social change which we must continue to push for.
As humanity has been locked down, the earth has been given a chance to breathe again, reporting 11, 000 fewer deaths from air pollution in the UK and Europe. We’ve become more appreciative of time spent with one another and have awakened to the value of the systems and structures we previously took for granted. As Dickens said: ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’.
2020 is a challenge we have risen to, acclimatising to circumstances we never could have envisioned in 2019. Yes, we may feel low, stressed, demotivated, angry, aggrieved, despondent, but it would take an extraordinarily resilient person to get through these extraordinary times unscathed.
What we must do is continue this momentum, seeking support and supporting others through the crisis. And if you’re feeling inspired to take action or seek help, check out the below list of places that are looking to alleviate the national struggles of Covid-19.
Black Minds Matter: “our mission is to connect Black individuals and families with free professional mental health services across the U.K.” Donate or seek help here.
Action Aid: “help stop the spread of coronavirus, protect the most vulnerable and save lives”. Donate here.
Age UK: “Please help us be there for older people who desperately need us during this crisis”. Donate here.
Mind: “Your donation could give someone hope and help them know they’re not alone”. Donate or seek help here.
NHS Charities Together: “Supporting NHS staff and volunteers caring for Covid-19 patients”. Donate here.
Oxfam: “We’re doing everything we can to protect the poorest people from coronavirus”. Donate here.
Petitions: UK Government and Parliament: List of open Covid-19 petitions. Explore and sign here.
Refuge: “For thousands of women and children, staying at home brings an increased threat of domestic abuse. Help keep our life-saving services running…”. Donate or seek help here.
Save the Children: “Save the Children is working closely with the Ministry of Health in Sudan to support health centres to prepare for and respond to the coronavirus outbreak”. Donate here.
The Trussell Trust: “Help us support food banks to provide practical support to people in crisis…” Donate or seek help here.
Young Mind’s: “We need the government to look #BeyondTomorrow and support young people’s mental health”. Sign here.
Rachael is a Classics Graduate from Bristol University who is now working as a Junior Project Manager at Immediate Media. In her spare time she writes freelance, largely on lifestyle, well-being and children’s literature.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous