LEARNING FROM COVID: How it amplified conflict and helped us reach out

13 March 2022

This month marks two years since the emergency response to Covid caused huge and lasting changes in our society, laying bare inequalities and needs that have been invisible for a long time, and forcing us to adapt at speed. Colin Waters from SCCR explores the impacts of Covid on mental health in the first of our blog series, exploring how to take forwards the lessons we've learned and build flexible, responsive and thoughtful support going forwards.

Times are tough; not many would or could contradict that. The consequences of Covid will linger. So many have lost their lives or had their long-term health damaged; so many couldn’t be in hospitals with loved ones when they passed or hold or attend funerals that did justice to the departed. It’s hard if not impossible to see anything positive occurring as a consequence of the pandemic. 

At Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution, we have seen families in conflict suffer particularly during the various lockdowns. Organisations and individuals who help vulnerable families receded into the background as employers struggled to find ways to continue offering support without putting their teams at risk during the initial phase of Covid. Unfortunately, that often led to families being left isolated, for a period at least.  

At the same time lockdown acted as an amplifier for problems that already existed within families.  If, for example, the problem was one of communication between parent or carer and young person before the pandemic, being confined to close quarters for an extended period while stressed by the worst public health crisis in a century did little to lower guards or encourage dialogue. 

SCCR works to build life skills. Handling conflict without falling apart comes down to self-awareness and regulating emotion, which is useful at the best of times and especially so in lockdown. Once the pandemic took hold, the SCCR moved its in-person workshops into online sessions streamed live. We’ve continued where possible during the pandemic to share our knowledge with those who need it – and also to listen too. 

But although Covid has had huge negative impacts, there are developments we may want to hold onto as we move forwards and start to see our way of life return to something closer to the pre-pandemic “normal”.  

Thinking back over the way in which conversation has developed over the past two years, it seems to me that it quickly became more okay to talk openly about mental health. Many of us were forced to stay home with the same set of family members or flatmates, or, perhaps, in fact, were alone. Either way, it was tough, we knew it was tough, and knowing this perhaps gave us greater permission than before to ask relatives, friends and colleagues how they were doing mentally.  

For some, checking-in has become routine after greetings, and this increased awareness and consideration for loved ones’ mental health and our own has to be one of Covid’s better outcomes.  

The pandemic has made us think much more about how we act when under stress. We can see others struggling, and, recognising in them something of our own travails, we can recognise when to give space or offer support if asked. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that people appear to be more receptive than before to what services like the SCCR have to offer. 

Similarly, we’ve spoken to some who tell us that while Covid has tested other families, for them being forced to spend time together has in fact strengthened bonds. Not all, but some young people report that their school work improved in lockdown because, for example, they were out of the orbit of bullies. Of a recent study completed by the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Cambridge, Emma Soneson, a PhD student and Gates Scholar said,  

‘The common narrative that the pandemic has had overwhelmingly negative effects on the lives of children and young people might not tell the full story.’ 

To be clear: we’re not saying the pandemic was something to have been welcomed. Whatever few positive benefits there has been will likely be seen as scant compensation for what we’ve endured. What we can say is that perhaps Covid has given us an insight into the importance of each person protecting their mental health and extending support to those we can now freshly observe are suffering.

It’s been a difficult few years for many of us, especially young people – we should take our silver linings where we find them.