Two years of COVID-19: loss and gain

Page last reviewed: 17 January 2022

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

Over the past two years, the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines, captured our imaginations, ignited our fears, and generated a wide range of emotions for many of us.

Our Mental Health in the Pandemic study has clearly shown that lockdown periods were really difficult for many of us. For those of us experiencing additional challenges, such as unemployment, disrupted education, home schooling or isolation, these have been extremely trying times.

Some of us have experienced a great deal of loss: of loved ones, normal life, maybe even parts of our identity. For others, opportunities came up for new habits, reflection, growth, volunteering and kindness. We may recognise both losses and gains when we look back on the time since March 2020.

Here are three personal stories reflecting on loss and gain.

Sam's story

I’m Sam, and I currently work as a Policy and Public Affairs Assistant at the Mental Health Foundation. Although the coronavirus pandemic has taken many things from many people, one thing I was never expecting it to take was my job. In my previous job, I, a zero-hours worker, was told that unfortunately there were no more hours for me to work and they were therefore furloughing me. 

Then in June 2020 we were all told that the company was permanently closing and we were all being made redundant. Somehow, despite me thinking otherwise, the collective hopelessness of everyone losing their jobs at the same time didn’t take away the feeling that the universe was targeting me personally. 

Over 60 applications in and only one interview to show for it, it became difficult to remember I had lost my job, not my purpose. Now, I am a man of privilege. I am white, well-educated, and with a wealth of financial and emotional support networks surrounding me. This privilege allowed me to re-discover my purpose through volunteering. When the opportunity arose to do a one day a week voluntary placement with the Mental Health Foundation, I took it. 

Losing my job was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. The constant rejection was mentally and physically exhausting, but it was also an experience that made me extremely humbled and grateful for all the things I’m lucky to have, and even more passionate about helping those not in the same position. I’m grateful for the Mental Health Foundation taking the leap of faith in employing me, and I’m even more grateful for the opportunity to try and help other people every single day. 

Marwah's story

2020 was a year of things missed, postponed and cancelled - birthdays, weddings, holidays and festivals.

However, what I gained was time with myself. 

In the precious windows between work and sleep I used to cram in social time with friends and family, gigs and shows, fitness, housework and life admin. In a society that glorifies busyness I had a year of stillness, and for that I am grateful. 

There was no Instagram filter that could rose tint the nothingness that I was up to. In a time of so much uncertainty, I wasn’t able to distract myself to pass the time – I had to show up for myself, take care of myself, and re-learn how to spend quality time with me. 

As a child I could content myself for whole days with a pencil and my dad’s scrap paper drawer. With all the time I had on my hands in 2020, I learned a lot from my childhood self as well as the children and young people around me. Not everyone had the luxury of more time alone, and not everyone who was alone had the privilege to feel it a luxury. But we all have ourselves, and we all sometimes forget how to just be. So I’ll leave you with one of my favourite childhood quotes.

“What I like doing best is Nothing. It means going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” – Christopher Robin, The House at Pooh Corner. 

Bethan's story

Trigger warning: this story mentions self-harm.

As a result of the pandemic, I lived in three different homes in 12 months. I know that my story not only isn’t uncommon in the pandemic but is also incredibly privileged in comparison to others. 

Back in March 2020, I was classed as medically vulnerable. This meant my partner needed to make a quick decision to either move in with me and my housemates temporarily or to stay in his current home and not see me until lockdown was lifted.

He quickly packed his bags and moved in. My housemates were supportive and welcoming, but, after two months of being locked down with a couple, they were finding that this was negatively affecting their mental health.

As a result, we made the decision to move into his house for the remainder of lockdown. While we had been at my house, one of my partner’s housemates tragically relapsed with alcohol and drug addiction and left the house under deeply sad circumstances.

I found this loss of my home during a global pandemic on top of the tragedy of my partner’s housemate incredibly destabilising. His house felt full of ghosts and I was experiencing feelings of displacement which triggered my PTSD. I was having panic attacksself-harming and under extreme stress – which resulted in me being signed-off sick from work.

Now, I still feel homesick for West London but also incredibly grateful. I live in a safe new home in North London, free from abuse, in a healthy relationship and with my two guinea pigs. It may not have been what I planned, but with all things considered I have had a very lucky experience in the pandemic.

Conclusion

These touching stories reflect the ways many of us have experienced loss, bereavement, change, growth and desperation. Out of loss, came hope. Out of isolation, came connection. Out of change, came innovation. Out of trauma, came growth. 

It’s important to remember that we haven’t all had the same pandemic experience. We have all been in the same storm, but we have not all been in the same boat. For many of us the next few months – and even years – will remain tough and uncertain.

Any of us can experience a mental health problem, but the risk is not evenly distributed. For many people, happiness and “normality” will rebound quickly. For others who have lost relatives, jobs or parts of their identity, recovery will take much longer. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that we will need to actively start rebuilding a future rooted in kindness, equality and empathy.