The other pandemic: the crippling mental health crisis in young people suffering from long COVID – Screen Shot
Deep Dives Level Up Newsletters Saved Articles Challenges

The other pandemic: the crippling mental health crisis in young people suffering from long COVID

Although many have recently been distracted by politicians’ parties and the fact that the whole of the UK is barely coping with rising energy costs and stagnating wages, there is a group of young people stranded in time, left without support or even sympathy, as they learn to adjust to their new lives with chronic illness.

New statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 1.7 million people in the UK are currently living with ‘long COVID’. That’s one in every 37. Long COVID appears to be a new phenomenon to many who have not experienced post-viral illness symptoms before, but it is in fact just the latest in a long line of conditions—for example, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, currently affects over 17 million people worldwide. So why, if we had known that long COVID was bound to happen too, were we not better prepared?

Someone is classified as having long COVID if their symptoms persist for over four weeks after infection, with most people reporting struggling for over three months to cope with the decline in health since infection. The most common symptoms reported are extreme fatigue, breathlessness, increased heart rate from minor activity as well as inability to concentrate, light and noise sensitivity, migraines and digestive issues. Doesn’t sound like much fun, right? 

In order to accurately paint the experiences and struggles that people suffering from long COVID go through, SCREENSHOT spoke to three young individuals whose lives have been profoundly changed by the virus. Jessica, 25, was an active primary school teacher before catching COVID-19 in late 2021. She was working 60 plus hours a week, rock climbing after work and socialising on the weekend. Until she got sick. “Nobody prepares you for the crippling PTSD that long COVID gives you—suddenly being bed-bound and you getting up to go to the loo feels like the equivalent of having just run a marathon. Watching people around you live their lives, the jealousy was overbearing,” she shared.

Alex was working as a teacher in Madrid, and after a severe case of COVID, has been left with multiple health conditions including focal frontopolar epilepsy and vestibular migraines, as well as the regular long COVID symptoms to contend with. Alex explained, “The hardest transition was mentally accepting that I’m not able to do what I used to be able to do. It has been extremely isolating, especially at a young age, as all my friends are very outgoing and sociable. I can no longer drive and don’t live in London, so getting around is much more difficult.”

Alejandra, 23, is doing a master’s degree in literary studies, but long COVID has thrown a spanner in her plans to graduate. She spoke to SCREENSHOT about the struggle in getting her peers and professors to understand the illness, and the sudden change in her ability to attend classes. “I missed [one professor’s] class six times because I could literally not get up from bed and I sometimes faint so it’s not safe to travel on my own. She has now threatened to fail me if I don’t attend all of the classes that we still have.”

Although Alex, Jessica and Alejandra have all had some form of support from a partner, friend or family member, they reported a severe decline in their mental health since becoming unwell. There is an obvious lack of structural measures in place to tend to the needs of newly chronically ill young people, forced to learn the limits of life with a condition for which there is currently no cure.

When she asked her GP for mental health support, Jessica was sent to therapy where a counsellor suggested she go for a walk or see a friend to cheer herself up. After she explained that she was unable to leave the house or even work, she was told she would have to go back at some point in order to earn money. Thanks for the advice, Captain obvious.

Alex applied for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a government benefit paid to support those unable to work due to long term illness. He was declined, with the service unable to recognise long COVID as a disability, and therefore ‘truly’ representing an inability to work.

It is this refusal to accept a new generation of young people, disabled by a virus the government failed to control in time, that fuels this second pandemic. Mental illness is a side effect of chronic illness. Science (and the lived experience of thousands of chronically ill and disabled people) tells us that those diagnosed with illnesses such as ME, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, and now long COVID are at a much higher risk of having their mental health negatively impacted.

It is a mistake to think it is the conditions themselves that cause depression and anxiety. Sure, the day to day life of a person with chronic illness can be mundane, painful and repetitive. But it is the lack of empathy, infrastructure and universal basic income that makes life near impossible.

On 8 April, it was announced that 27-year-old Abhijeet Tavare took his own life after struggling to cope with long COVID. He saw five different doctors before that, who all failed at helping him (unsurprising given the lack of treatment plans or medication available for the condition). In his final letter found by his mother, Tavare stated that he could no longer go on living with the illness.

The young man’s death is a tragedy, and it represents a striking example of the chronic illness-induced mental health crisis that is festering out of the public eye. The NHS is on its knees from yet another wave of acute cases—not to mention playing catch up on years of delays for people suffering from unrelated conditions—all while grappling with slashed funding wrought by punitive Conservative austerity measures. Urgent intervention is required otherwise we face losing swathes of brilliant young people to a new kind of mental health crisis.

It’s been proved; masturbation is good for your mental health

Masturbation. Let’s just get that word out in the open from the get-go. We all do it, or at least feel the urge to do it at some point, and while men may brag about how many they can knock out in one day, there’s no denying that a stigma still exists when it comes to female masturbation.

So let’s get one thing straight; there’s nothing wrong or dirty about it. And aside from making you feel pretty damn good in the moment and beyond, masturbating can actually come with some incredible mental health benefits and actually improve your mental wellbeing. Eleanor McKenzie, editor-in-chief of erotica subscription service Lady Victoria Howard explains exactly why masturbation is good for your body and your mind.

With most of the world coming out of lockdown only just now, it’s fair to say that we need a little self-love more than ever. Social distancing is awkward for all of us. No kisses, hugs, or even shaking hands is contrary to our norms of politeness as well as ways of showing affection and warmth.

A lack of human touch definitely affects our emotional and mental health. Those people who were fortunate enough to have partners, children or pets with them throughout lockdown have not missed out on touch in the same way as those who live alone.

Nobody started lockdown thinking their mental health might be affected by lack of physical contact; it’s something that creeps up on them and that makes it more dangerous for the most vulnerable in mental health terms.

So let’s take a look at why masturbating should be as part of your daily routine as taking a vitamin or brushing your teeth. Just maybe not at the same time.

Masturbating reduces feelings of depression

How we feel is all controlled by hormones in our brains, and when there’s an imbalance of those hormones our mood can swing wildly from soaring on cloud nine to the depths of depression. Masturbating helps to stimulate and release the very best of these hormones. Dopamine is responsible for making you feel good and put you in a better mood, and oxytocin (the ‘love’ hormone) helps to combat cortisol (the stress hormone).

So grab your favourite toy or lube up your fingers, and get those hormones swimming.

Dr Earim, medical director of wellness platform Manual, spoke about the incredible cocktail of hormones released when you get down with yourself: “Research and anecdotal reports suggest that sexual stimulation, like masturbation, can: relieve stress and tension, boost your mood, help you sleep better, improve your sex life by better understanding your wants and needs and so on. Orgasm causes the release of endorphins, which are known to reduce stress and boost confidence. Also released is serotonin, which is a known antidepressant.”

Masturbation, also known as the ultimate stress reliever.

Learn to love yourself

Your self-esteem and how you feel about yourself is intricately tied to your overall mental and physical health, especially your stress levels. Having low self-esteem and feeling bad about yourself can make it harder for you to be able to cope with everyday tasks and stresses, and beating yourself down all the time takes up a lot of energy.

Fortunately, there’s an enjoyable way to boost your self-esteem available right at your fingertips. Did you know that masturbating has been linked to a positive body image? Spending time getting intimate with yourself is a relatively untapped form of self-love and self-acceptance. The more you get to know and understand your body, the more you’ll start to cultivate a loving relationship with it.

Speaking to Megwyn White, a certified clinical sexologist and director of education at sexual wellness brand Satisfyer, she explained that we can develop a deeper connection between our mind and body when we masturbate: “It’s not only orgasms that can conquer the negative impacts of lack of social touch. When we explore self-pleasure we can also help to activate neural receptors within the skin called C-tactile afferent nerves, which especially respond to slow and gentle touch.”

“We can help support this neutral connective feature of mind and body awareness through slow conscious touch of the body, and this can result in a slowing down of the stress response and a more positive relationship to our surrounding environment. In a very real sense, when you touch your own body you are in direct communication with your mind,” White added.

Sleep better at night

Sleep is vastly underrated. In a world that thrives on hustle culture, if we’re not constantly busy then the likes of Instagram can make us feel as though we’re being lazy. That, in turn, fuels our anxiety and stress which can cause us to lie awake at night, and then the sleep deprivation makes us more stressed and anxious, which can lead to low moods and poor physical health. It’s a terrible cycle.

But before you start popping sleeping pills, why not give masturbation a try? Orgasms can act as a kind of natural sedative to help you unwind and relax. Those delicious hormones we talked about earlier—like prolactin and oxytocin—are released and can help you feel nice and sleepy once you come down from your high, helping you get that good night’s sleep you’ve been daydreaming about.

Combat addictive behaviours

When you’re stressed, what kind of food are you going to reach for first? It’s probably not going to be the healthy option, but rather junk or food that may make you feel better at first, but over time will leave you feeling sluggish and low. Another terrible cycle. But fortunately, those happy hormones that are released when you climax are more likely to give you a positive outlook on life, which in turn will make you less likely to crave addictive junk food or other kinds of addictive negative behaviour such as endless social media scrolling.

Orgasms are just the gift that keeps on giving.

Combat loneliness

Let’s face it, we’re all having a tough time at the moment. Lockdown hasn’t been easy on any of us, especially those who live alone or are away from partners. And while nothing can replace the touch of a loved one, masturbation could be a way to fill that gap.

Here again, Dr Earim weighs in, “During this period of lockdown, human touch isn’t as available to us, and singles have had to put dating on hold. Masturbation allows you to take pleasure into your own hands if you’re self-isolating. As we know, masturbation is great for your mind and might reduce some negative emotions you’re experiencing presently. Above all else, it’s important to enjoy yourself and embrace your sexuality.”

If there’s one thing we’ve learned here, it’s that masturbation is a wonderful thing. Not only does it make you feel like you’re getting electrocuted in a good way, but it turns out it’s fantastic for your health. So, if anything, masturbation is just what the doctor ordered.