'Everything came to a stop': Anxiety-sufferer speaks out as 63% say mental health got worse in lockdown

"When it came to a stop, there was an overwhelming wave of everything - all the thoughts I'd suppressed, all the feelings."

Amira Hayat describes how the first lockdown in March 2020 had an incredibly negative effect on her mental health.

And she's not alone - two in three (63%) adults in Wales believe that their mental health and wellbeing has got worse since the first national lockdown, according to Mind Cymru.

"Going into lockdown definitely made me realise I had a mental health problem," Amira tells ITV News.

Before the pandemic, Amira coped with anxiety in her own way. She'd spend lots of time alone and found it difficult to open up about how she was feeling.

"When it comes to mental health, it's a bit of a touchy subject within our community so even when I did think I might have anxiety I didn't tell anyone because I just thought 'no one else has ever talked about it'.

"But in lockdown, everything came to a stop all at once. I was the type of person that would keep myself occupied with things all the time to block out any anxious thoughts and feelings - that's how I would deal with things.

"As unhealthy as that was, that's what I was used to, so when it came to a stop there was an overwhelming wave of everything - all the thoughts I'd suppressed, all the feelings, everything just came all at once.

"It was like a buzzing of noise in my head almost."

  • Mind Cymru has launched a campaign calling on the Welsh Government to prioritise mental health

The university student struggled to focus on her work, but when her best friend encouraged her to talk, she said it was "like a weight had been lifted".

Amira began a series of live discussions on Instagram - talking through a different aspect of mental health every week. Her talk on male mental health got the most attention, specifically in the South Asian community.

She said: "I felt like I was going through this on my own but when I did speak up - it made me feel so much more comfortable knowing so many other people can relate and motivated me to make a change.

"I think young people, and particularly young people from ethnic minorities, we need the right support. We need people of colour and people of religion to be there for us."

In a study carried out by Mind Cymru, just over a quarter of people (26%) said they had developed a mental health problem during the pandemic.

Not being able to see friends, family or a partner and being worried about the virus were the main contributing factors, with 60% of respondents being worried about seeing or being near other people once restrictions ease.

In response to these findings, Mind Cymru are relaunching the #StandForMe campaign, demanding that mental health is at the top of the Welsh Government’s agenda for years to come.

The charity is calling on the new Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle, to ensure the Welsh Government’s commitments to prioritising mental health support to help with the long-term recovery are delivered.

Mind Cymru are asking people across Wales to share their mental health story, so that the Welsh Government recognises the importance of delivering on increased funding, better laws and the right services to support people with mental health problems.

Susan O’Leary, Interim Director at Mind Cymru, said: “As we emerge from a global health pandemic, support for the mental health of the nation must remain a priority for the Welsh Government. Significant numbers of people with an existing mental health problem have experienced a worsening of their mental health, with a number experiencing a problem for the first time.

“These initial results highlight the need for long-term investment and support for Welsh people in the coming years as we know that mental health issues do not have a short-term fix. Whilst the easing of restrictions will come as a relief for many of us, this survey indicates that for a significant number of people with mental health problems there may be added worry. People will need support to overcome this and return to many aspects of their lives before the pandemic.

“We welcome the announcements in the Programme for Government last week and the focus now needs to be on ensuring these are delivered The opportunity to increase investment in support for children and young people, tackle inequalities in access and deliver reductions in waiting times needs to be grasped."

Mind Cymru are asking people across Wales to share their mental health story Credit: PA/Dominic Lipinski

A Welsh Government spokesperson told ITV News that access to mental health support is a "top priority".

They said: "Our new Programme for Government makes it clear that we will prioritise investment in mental health services – and of course having a dedicated Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing reaffirms our commitment to supporting the nation’s mental health. “Mental health support has been essential during the pandemic and we work closely with partners, including the third sector, to respond to changing mental health needs.

"We are investing an additional £42m in this financial year to support mental health services and provide additional support for low level mental health issues. Responding to the mental impact of the pandemic requires a multi-faceted and multi-agency approach and we are committed to working with partners like Mind to do this."