Thursday 11 March 2021

What on earth has Covid19 done to our mental health?

 Have you ever seen someone for the first time for a while and been totally shocked by their appearance,demanour and behaviour? This week I've been starting to see some of the effects first hand. 

Regular readers will know I run a music studio and we are open for professional musicians. For the last couple of months, it has been deathly quiet. No gigs means no reason for pro rehearsals. As live music is restarting from 17th May, the phone has started ringing and we've seen a marked upturn in bookings. This week has been the busiest of the year by some way, mostly solo drummers, sax players, vocalists, trying to lose the ring rust.

Having seen some artists for the first time in a year, I've been quite shocked at how Covid has affected one or two of them. Whilst I guess that we all have dodgy haircuts at the moment. With barbers and hairdressers shut, even the best groomed of our customers have struggled. Many have admired my new haircut and told me they wish they'd taken that radical step. Just about all say getting their hair done is perhaps their no 1 priority for the post lockdown period.

Whilst this banter has been quite amusing, I've seen a darker side start to emerge. Musicians are by definition social beasts. They collaborate and they entertain. Some have hardly seen a soul for a year. A couple have only just emerged, being over 60 and with health issues. The vaccine has given them a degree of confidence to play again. Most of these have simply been doing solo practice, trying to get back to the standard they need to play professional gigs. 

Some of the stories I've heard this week are quite horrific. If you've spent 50 years as a professional musician playing regularly, watching other musicians, spending your time in pubs and clubs, then you are locked up in your house for a year, on pain of death, it would not help anyone feel good about themselves. I am speaking about musicians, as this is who I personally see, but this is surely repeated across many industries. What I've noticed is that many people, who were previously confident, gregarious and outgoinghave lived like hermits for a year and seem to have lost a lot of their spark. We had one drummer today, well over 60, who was telling me that this was the first trip out of the house since lockdown. This time last year, you couldn't miss him. Today I hardly recognised him. Our last conversation was one of jokes and banter, today it was nothing of the sort. He simply came in and asked if it was OK to go to the studio. I almost didn't recognise him. He booked a two hour drum session. At the end of the session, he came in, got a coffee from the machine and said "I didn't recognise you with that barnet". He old me he'd not been out as he has a condition that made him vulnerable. All his shopping had been delivered. He'd seen none of the rest of the band. He said that he'd not done the Zoom thing, couldn't get his head around it. He said "I have enjoyed your blog, but you should do more on Jazz". He told me how he'd spent the first six months drinking too much, three months on the wagon and now he's drifting between the two. He said that drumming today was the first time he'd felt human in a year, but his arms hurt after fifteen minutes. He told me he'd not realised how rusty he was. I asked if he'd mind if I mention the conversation, he said he was pleased. He then opened up about the depths he'd reached in the dark days of December and January. No family contact, no friends, no music and not much hope for the future. He's got a couple of gigs in June, so he now has a focus. He confided that he was terrified that he's lost it, the band won't gel, the audiences won't come back. He told me he had nightmares about empty gigs, where the band can't remember the songs. 

This is one person, but the conversation has elements of what manty have told me. I've taken maybe 200 phone calls this week from formerly regular customers and many just wanted a chat. The call to see if we are open is just a subtext for a desire for a chat. Whilst I am trying to run a business, it has become apparent that people need to talk. I do what I can, but it can be hard if you are trying to also run a business and deal with customers.

The bottom line is that many have suffered a traumatic change in their lives. Isolation is very destructive for our mental health. Many have been isolated for a year. In prisons, solitary confinement is used as a  punishment. It is perhaps the most severe sanction used in our prisons. Many single people, with underlying health issues, have been subjected to a year of it. I think that the ending of the covid crisis is just the start of Tsunami of  mental health issues.  We need to ensure the NHS is prepared for this. I wish I could say something more insightful, but I can't.

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