‘Don’t be afraid to seek mental health advice amid coronavirus’

People should not feel guilty about reaching out for help and advice about mental health wellbeing during the coronavirus crisis.

Isolation, debt, anxiety and stress can all be exacerbated by the onset of social distancing and working remotely from colleagues, a panel discussing mental health in a Travel Weekly webcast said.

Chris O’Sullivan, head of business development and engagement at The Mental Health Foundation, said that when adapting to new things very quickly it can be “completely normal to feel distressed”.

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Kieran Hartwell, managing director for corporate travel at Travel Counsellors said mental health can be affected in various ways. He said: “The immediate gut reaction is to worry about money, but then there’s the second soul-destroying layer of ‘we’ve worked for months and years making some of these bookings, taking care of our customers and now we have to invest an equal amount of effort to unwind all that to make sure people are repatriated, and then there’s the future worry of is that going to come back and is it going to come back in the same capacity and how are we going to build ourselves back up.”

Shane Lewis-Riley, associate vice president of Virgin Voyages, said: “There are so many things for people to worry about and they’ve all sort of hit us at once. I would describe it as a rollercoaster ride. We talk about, in the pandemic, trying to flatten the curve, and I’m trying to help people and help myself to flatten curves which come along in these waves of anxiety.”

Time to take stock

But all three said the lockdown imposed as part of social distancing in response to the coronavirus pandemic can be an opportunity to reassess priorities and take stock.

Lewis-Riley said: “It’s really important we allow people opportunities to discuss it and acknowledge the fact that many people have probably never considered themselves to be someone who would ‘suffer’ with mental health. But now there are people out there who realise they are struggling.”

He urged those working in travel, who may have otherwise been on the road, to make the most out of unexpected time at home and reassess processes. “We’ve been given the gift of time,” he said.

Plan remote days

O’Sullivan said it was important to plan days when working remotely, and not to get downhearted if to-do lists aren’t completed. He advised people to “go easy on yourself” when adapting to the new way or working.

He also suggested that people being forced to work from home has helped “make it ok” to discuss mental health “People are able to talk about how they’re feeling about things when perhaps that might have been difficult before,” he said, adding: “You shouldn’t feel like you can’t talk to people for fear of overwhelming services or being a burden on other people.”

Travel Counsellors has increased support for its 2,000 members by extending its benevolent fund to help business owners in financial stress as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hartwell said: “Quite often asking someone for help is the hardest thing. If someone makes that first step, we’re trying to make sure we’re building on the back of that.”

O’Sullivan added: “Having the lowest possible gradient to asking for financial help is really important. The stigma around debt is almost as acute as the stigma around mental health and when he two things collide it can lead people into very dark places quite quickly.

But he concluded: “We will get through this is we learn from the mistakes that we make and the opportunities that we take.”

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