Mental health charities have warned of a potential surge in cases of anxiety and stress as lockdown restrictions slowly lift.
The warning comes just a few days after the recent return of students to their schools and colleges as part of step one of the government's 'roadmap' out of lockdown.
As of March 29th, limited socialising will also be permitted, allowing 6 people or 2 households to see each other just in time for Easter.
Step 2 of the roadmap will commence on April 12th where non-essential retail, indoor leisure facilities and hospitality venues will begin to open up again, while June 21st is the current date for easing of all social contact restrictions.
Despite the roadmap representing a route back to normality for many, experts are warning that the shift out of lockdown may cause a spike in cases of anxiety and stress.
“Some of us might have found there were some unexpected plus points to lockdown – and therefore feel uneasy or anxious at the prospect of it being lifted," Rosie Weatherley, an information content manager at Mind told The Guardian.
"For example, we may be worried about ‘normality’ resuming, or not wanting to return to a faster pace with busier daily lives, and less downtime to ourselves.”
People with anxiety and PTSD in particular may have found comfort in being given "'permission to stay at home", said Dr Tine Van Bortel, senior research associate in public health at the University of Cambridge. “...knowing that at some point you’ll have to go out again can actually trigger stress and anxiety,"
For people with anxiety disorders, being at home gives them a sense of control over their environment, resulting in a sense of comfort, said Dr Emilios Lemonatis of the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust. "They’re potentially going to be very distrusting of the new environment and will therefore require a lot of support to reorient themselves in the new world.”
The government has made taken steps to ease the mental health burden of returning back to normality in the case of children and young people.
Last week, £79 million of funding was confirmed to aid in the improvement of mental health support services in schools and colleges.
The goal is to increase the number of schools with a mental health support team –a team of mental health professionals that provide support to students, families and educational staff – from 59 to 400 by April 2023.
"This has been an exceptionally difficult year, especially for our children and young people, and we know it is having a real impact on mental health," said minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Nadine Dorries, in a government statement announcing the investment.
"This additional funding will mean children who need to can access services in the community, as well as providing early intervention in schools."
The announcement came shortly after the government's recently appointed mental health ambassador, Dr Alex George, suggested the need for flexible school returns to help children reaccustom to the classroom.
"You can't just expect... someone who is very anxious to go back to school will go back to normal," said George.
The funds for children's support are part of the government's £500 million package for mental health services for wider society, including specialist services for NHS workers, as well as helping to address the backlog of mental health referrals that have developed during the pandemic.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health