• Stress and anxiety are a natural reaction to these challenging times.
  • The effects should not be under-estimated.
  • There are plenty of things we can all do to stay more resilient.

“We mustn’t forget our mental well-being.” That was the message from Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on staying safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

Interviewed along with her husband Prince William, by the BBC, the royal couple spoke about the importance of recognizing the strain being put on front-line workers and making mental health a priority.

In addition to their official duties, the royal couple have continued to stress the importance of good mental health and the need to end the stigma surrounding it.

A special strain on the front line

In the UK, members of the public have taken to standing outside their homes and clapping at 8 p.m. every Thursday. The display is intended as a show of support for NHS healthcare workers.

While the nation appreciates the sacrifices made by doctors and nurses, not every health worker feels like a hero, Prince William cautioned. He said it is important everyone knows that it’s OK to struggle with how challenging things are.

“I’ve also been hearing that there are those who are working in the NHS who understandably are nervous, are anxious,” he told the BBC. “This hero tag we’re applying to the NHS workers, albeit it’s totally valid, we’ve got to be careful we don’t alienate some of the other NHS workers who do really genuinely worry and are scared going to work every single day.”

A pandemic of stress

According to the WHO, elevated rates of stress or anxiety are among the most prevalent mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But these are being exacerbated by periods of lockdown and quarantine which have upended many people’s usual routines and livelihoods. This is increasing the risk of “loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour,” the organization says.

The WHO has produced an infographic to tell people how to protect their mental health during this difficult time.

coronavirus fears epidemic pandemic disease infection contamination sanitation spread virus health care
Coping measures.
Image: WHO

Businesses and governments have also also mobilized to tackle the pandemic's mental impact. In China, the first country to experience the outbreak and its lockdowns, people spent 20% more time on wellbeing apps in the first week of March than the same period in January. In time, some of that country’s biggest businesses have expanded their online counselling and mental health support outreach, including Alibaba Health, WeDoctor (backed by Tencent), and JD Health (from JD.com).

Mental health support is now a key offering from the UK's NHS, which is using its Every Mind Matters platform to share support and advice such as 10 tips to help if you are worried about coronavirus.

Coping and connecting

Asked how they were being affected by the coronavirus lockdown, Prince William and Catherine said they had experienced “ups and downs, like a lot of families self-isolating” and said they’d been having regular video calls with other members of the royal family to make sure they stay in regular contact with one another.

The royal couple urged each individual to maintain social connections like these to help prioritize their mental health and that of friends and family. Said Prince William: "It's important that other people aren't forgotten and those who do need help, and do need support, and haven't necessarily ever had to think about their mental well-being, start to do that in this weird climate we're in."