St Albans musician reveals mental health challenges under lockdown

Stacey Turner and Mark Christopher Lee before the lockdown.

Stacey Turner and Mark Christopher Lee before the lockdown. - Credit: Archant

As part of our ongoing It’s OK To Say mental health awareness initiative, charity founder Stacey Turner catches up with local musican Mark Christopher Lee to talk to him about the challenges he is facing during the ongoing pandemic.

“I am really struggling with the mental aspects of lockdown and social distancing,” says Mark Christopher Lee, frontman of local band The Pocket Gods.

“I suffer from severe PTSD and borderline personality disorder due to an abusive childhood (I am registered disabled). I have been on and off treatment for 20 years and had a failed suicide attempt in January 2019. I have made a film about all this on Amazon Prime – Weird: The Life And Times Of A Pocket God - in an attempt to reach out to others.

“Since then I have been waiting for new treatment to help deal with my flashbacks, PTSD and constant anxiety. This was supposed to start a month ago but for COVID-19 reasons, it has been put on hold and understandably so, the mental health teams are completely stretched.

“My anxiety and suicidal thoughts have been getting worse since lockdown and came to a head on Good Friday resulting in a breakdown. I phoned the emergency mental health helpline which is open 24 hours a day every day. I carry the number in my wallet with professionals insisting I carry and use it.

“I was desperate to use it, but sadly I was put on hold and told it would be a 17 minute wait , which was fine, but an hour later an automated voice came on and said, ‘There are too many calls’ and then accidently cut me off.

“Even more anxious and depressed, I called the NHS number, not wanting to burden an already overloaded system. Thankfully, someone was able to help me.

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“My GP then contacted me and granted me permission to leave the house for a walk more than once a day. This has really helped, and I am grateful for the support I have received and thanks to my GP, I receive a call every two weeks for 10 minutes.

“I believe that the longer the lockdown goes on, the harder this will get for others with mental health problems with their existing support network gone.”

Stacey asked Mark if he would find face-to-face video support helpful and his response was very positive: “Yes, face-to-face video calls are the best I can hope for, I think we will appreciate face-to-face human contact again once this is all over - but for now, it’s better than telephone.

“I’m dealing with holding everything in whilst having the added anxieties posed by lockdown, I guess like a lot of abuse victims, the whole idea of lockdown, being contained and not free has a lot of negative connotations.

“I just wanted to reach out to others that will be suffering and say that we have to look after each other, reach out and it’s important to focus on the positives however small they seem, such as having internet and being able to see people via a computer screen and that there are a lot of good people doing good things in the world.

Stacey asked Mark to give his top five tips to help others.

1. Be grateful or find something you are grateful for.

2. Exercise every day

3. Limit your daily intake of media

4. Help others

5. Establish a routine, and weekly plan using a planner

Stacey added: “Virtual therapy needs to be considered, it’s been around for a long time, yet is especially important in these times. A variety of face-to-face, phone and text talk can also be really helpful.

“It does require a place to connect without being interrupted and a little thought as to how you transition from the session is essential, such as a walk.

“Please look after yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out for help and guidance on support.”

If you are struggling during lockdown, Samaritans provides confidential, emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Phone 116 123. Calls are free.