The coronavirus lockdown has left Lee Suckling a man alone. Here's how he's faring in week two of living in total isolation.
It's been 11 days since I spoke to a person in "real life". Or maybe it's 12. Or 14? Who understands time anymore.
In adhering to the Government's total lockdown rules, I'm in solitary confinement. I live alone because my husband is deployed overseas with the NZ Army. I don't have family or friends in close proximity that could have taken me in for a month. Therefore, it's just me and my dog for the full duration of the COVID-19 containment procedure.
As the days go by – however many of them there have been now – my good mental health wanes because of all of this.
Solitude and loneliness are silent killers of their own. While we protect the health of the physically vulnerable during this lockdown, we seem to have forgotten about the health of the mentally vulnerable.
READ MORE: • Man alone: "Isolation has put me on heat"
The trust Anxiety NZ surmises one in four Kiwis suffers from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, OCD, or phobias. I think this is a hugely underestimated number and it's probably more like half of us. I know I've had experience with all of the above.
For me, isolation from human contact is my Achilles' heel. I've been through psychotherapy to successfully manage anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. I've done cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) of memories.
As a package, this treatment was wildly successful and all-but cured me of my mental health difficulties. Save for one thing. Of all the mental health professionals I saw over the years, there was one consensus: my problems emerge during times of combined stress and seclusion. Solitude will always be my core weakness. I need to actively manage and avoid it every day of my life.
I require the fundamental human needs of company and community to keep my mental health in check. Without them, I lose perspective, and get lost in a dark cloud; a whirlwind of worry and emotional weakness. I get a visit from that Black Dog we often talk about when discussing mental health.
I was initially heartened by the idea that those who live alone could have an "isolation buddy" – someone you could visit if you remained faithful to them – until the Government clarified that such a person had to live alone as well, and they had to be in your neighbourhood. I don't have anyone like that.
Technology has eased my mental pain, but it's not quite the same. My lockdown afternoons are the hardest part of the day – gone are the endorphins from my morning outdoor workout, so around 2pm I feel that dark cloud coming back to taunt me.
But in the early evenings my friends start to come online, so that social connection I require so seriously for my mental health is facilitated through FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, or Houseparty.
I don't get the physical connection my brain craves, but at least I get a bit of conversation. Even if all we talk about is coronavirus.
I should point out: of the vulnerable, I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm warm, I'm dry, I have a roof over my head. I have food and wine. I have clean water, high-speed internet, and a really comfortable bed. I've also had the rare privilege of mental health treatment which has given me a toolkit to survive.
What about the people who don't have any of that? What about their mental health?
I'm worried about them far more than myself. I'm worried about the number of suicides that will occur during lockdown.
I'm worried about those with mild mental health issues before COVID-19 (particularly around health anxiety and loneliness) whose issues are now unmanageable.
I'm worried about the stress management of those who could hit, abuse, and maybe even kill their family members during self-isolation.
And I'm worried about all the new cases of mental health problems this lockdown will lead to in the years to come because of the low-intensity, daily trauma we're all going through.
I understand why we are doing this lockdown. But we are being robbed of a fundamental human right that keeps us mentally healthy. All this talk about what people are doing to "stay sane" during self-isolation is insulting to those whose mental health issues can't be solved by a Netflix binge, a brief walk in the park, or an afternoon of baking scones.
I believe long-term deprivation, as we are currently experiencing, will undoubtedly lead to a sharp increase in anxiety, depression, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and PSTD amongst the general population. And I foresee those issues being chronic and devastating to society. Over time, I believe they will cause far more causalities than any virus.
The global concern of not having enough hospital beds to treat the old and infirm during COVID-19 is valid. Yet I think all governments – including our own – have failed to take into account the mental health resources we'll all need for the years to come because of the containment procedures surrounding this pandemic.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.