Time to Talk Day: Facing the mental health challenges of Covid

Experts, celebrities and Cardiff residents share ways to cope with isolation and loneliness

NEW figures reveal that one in five people in Wales feel their support network has shrunk during the pandemic, leaving them with fewer people to talk to.

In a survey of 4,500 people from across the UK, 43% of respondents said that the lack of -face-to-face contact had limited their support network, while 41% said they were afraid of feeling like a burden if they shared their problems.

Rosie Moore, 24, of Cardiff, said: “Due to my depression, anxiety and OCD, my instinct is to isolate and protect myself from whatever causes my mental health to deteriorate, which can lead me to withdraw from my family and friends”.

Rosie suffers from intrusive thoughts that something bad will happen to her or her loved ones. The pandemic has exacerbated these thoughts, especially after both Rosie’s grandparents died from Covid-19 during summer.

“They died within weeks of each other,” she said, “not being able to see them was very upsetting”.

For Rosie, lockdown has been “really isolating and lonely”. She finds it harder to talk about her mental health online rather than face-to-face, and said it feels “harder to open up with each lockdown”.

‘Runversations’ keep Cardiff runners going during lockdown

As the survey results show, Rosie is not the only one struggling with lockdown and its impact on her mental health. However, some groups have found creative ways to support those struggling, even while they couldn’t meet up face-to-face.

Anna-Jane Thomas, 48, of Whitchurch, is a committee member for She Runs Cardiff. The group has grown significantly during lockdown and now has over a thousand members.

In the face of Covid restrictions, She Runs Cardiff developed ‘runversations’.

Two (or more) runners pop on their headphones, give each other a call and head out on a run, virtually replicating the joy of running and walking with friends.

Members of She Runs Cardiff on their “runversations”. Credit: Anna-Jane Thomas

“It’s been a saviour,” said Anna-Jane, adding: “I’m a GP – we have a lot of front-line workers – so work hasn’t been the easiest.

“It [running] has been my way of escaping for a bit”.

The group itself fosters an inclusive and supportive environment, whether or not members are able to get out on a run.

“Even with running, some of our ladies are really struggling,” said Anna-Jane.

“The group has kept them going. Quite a few have been injured and not running, but if you disappear for a bit someone will check in on you.

“It’s been amazing – running has been good, but the group has just been fab”.

The power of ‘small’ conversations

This Thursday, February 4, Time to Talk Day will focus on the power of ‘small’ and the combined benefits of exercise and talking when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.

Lowri Wyn Jones, programme manager for Time to Change Wales, said: “The last year has been hard and it’s perhaps made more people realise that we can all struggle with our mental health at times.

“It’s easy to think we haven’t got the power to make a change,” she added, “but lots of ‘small’ conversations can add up to a big difference in tackling the stigma and discrimination too many people still experience because of their mental health”.

This year, Time to Change Wales have partnered with Ramblers Cymru to encourage people to get out and about to have these conversations.

Roath Park is one of the routes being promoted by Ramblers Cymru. Credit: Emily Withers

Angela Charlton, director of Ramblers Cymru, said: “Being physically active, connecting with nature and other people are all things which have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing.

“Walking is also a perfect way to create space for a conversation with others and opening up.”

The latest easing of restrictions means people in Wales can now meet up with one other person to exercise, providing the perfect opportunity to head out for a walk and check in on friends.

Wynne Evans opens up about struggles with depression

Other events happening this Thursday include Cwm Taf Morgannwg Mind’s (CTM Mind) chat with BBC Radio Wales’ Wynne Evans.

Wynne Evans appears as Gio Compario on our TV screens, but off-screen was coping with depression. Credit: Mind CTM

Wynne has spoken to the charity about how, despite appearing to thrive on television and radio, he struggled with his mental health, and shares some of the ways he has learnt to cope with depression.

“It’s the tiny things that help, it’s a tiny thing just to pick up the phone or pop next door and ask ‘how are you?'”, said Wynne.

“It’s tiny, but it’s so important”.

Wynne’s conversation with Gareth Lewis from CTM Mind will be available on Facebook and Twitter on Time to Talk Day, Thursday, 4 February.