Mental health impact of coronavirus mustn’t be overlooked as we try and get back to normal

Getting back to normal is key, says Stephen Crocker, but people will need more mental health support

Getting back to normal is key, says Stephen Crocker, but people will need more mental health support as they try and rebuild their lives after almost two months of lockdown - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre, says support for mental health needs to be prioritised more than ever as we come out of this period of lockdown

Art and culture thrive on the timelessness of stories and emotions. This is the reason why people we see in public life today often resemble the characters in Shakespeare’s plays, snippets from centuries old works of literature find their way into everyday conversation and many people find themselves humming melodies by great classical composers at moments of high emotion.

The enduring resonance of artistic work has seen many people over the past weeks singing with a new poignancy the 1939 song made famous by Dame Vera Lynn: ‘We’ll meet again’. I was brought to tears hearing people singing it together to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day not only because of what it represents of its time but the renewed importance of the song during this period of social restrictions. The song is the epitome of hopefulness and we absolutely need that right now. However, I cannot help but dwell on one line in particular: ‘till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away’.

Over the past two months I think I have spoken to more people on the phone and through virtual platforms than I have in the past two years. This has included friends, colleagues, artists with whom we work and audience members from across our venues. Amidst physical social distancing, non-physical socialising has flourished and I’m sure this is the case for many. I have concluded that I like this very much and it has also been the means through which I have maintained my own positivity. However, adjusting to physical restrictions has been much more difficult for many whose mental well-being and resilience have been tested and pushed to extreme levels. I have seen this first hand in people I care about deeply and, thankfully, they have all found their own forms of support but it has left its mark and has been a trauma. The blue skies will absolutely come but the dark clouds of this period will not be driven far away immediately - they will linger for a while.

This is why I believe that support for mental health and well-being as we continue to emerge out of ongoing restrictions needs to be prioritised more than ever before. We have daily conversations about this at Norwich Theatre around how we support our own people but also the wider societal role we play and that art and culture has played for centuries. We provide escapism, foster togetherness and our buildings and work prevent loneliness.

As we look to the future of our programmes, we will do all that we can to support de-isolation and promote healthy mental well-being again. We are particularly looking forward to re-igniting our partnerships with many of the local health and wellbeing organisations with whom we have worked over recent years to support this work. I am also delighted to have become an ambassador for the Sir Norman Lamb Mental Health & Wellbeing Fund as my own pledge to support the work of grassroots organisations in Norfolk. These organisations will soon become frontline workers as the impact of what we have all lived through begins to become clear and they lead the charge in making sure that those dark clouds are indeed driven far away.