A Disabled Person’s View of Lockdown and The Benefits of Art for Physical and Mental Health

By Amie Kirby
May 15th 2021

The past year has been immeasurably difficult for everybody. With the very harsh realities of the Covid-19 pandemic rapidly unfolding as we welcomed the year 2020, what we knew as ‘normal’ was suddenly replaced by an alien, uncomfortable, hard-to-adapt-to ‘new normal’. I remember sitting on my bed in my tiny room in Durham, where I was attending university at the time. Scrolling through news reports of mounting cases, I thought – ‘yep, this is it, this is how my final year is going to end.’. Three weeks later, I was ending the term and coming home early. My friends and I still joke that we’ll turn 30 before we get a proper graduation!

The ‘New Normal’

Since then, I’ve experienced many difficulties. As a Type 1 Diabetic, who also has an anxiety disorder, many aspects of pandemic life and this scary ‘new normal’ have been hard to adjust to. My experience is just one of many common to the Disabled community, so I thought I’d try to help others by giving “a disabled person’s view of lockdown”. From having to shield and isolate at home (also meaning I’ve had to arrange for my prescriptions to be delivered), to meeting with my medical team over Zoom, to anxiously waiting to hear about when we will finally receive our vaccine (I’m lucky; I had my first dose in February and my second dose in April).  

As you can imagine, this experience has been incredibly isolating – literally in the physical sense, but also regarding mental health. Whilst I’m lucky that I live with my partner, there are many people across the country, including Disabled people, who live alone with limited support. 

The Mind and the Body: A Continuing Link 

It is especially important to consider the lockdown’s impact on the relationship between Disability and mental health for two reasons:

Firstly, a high proportion of those living with Disabilities will also experience a mental illness, or episodes of mental ill-health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, more than 15 million people (around a third of the UK population) live with one or more long-term conditions or Disabilities. Of these, approximately 4 million will also have a mental illness or mental ill-health. As a Diabetic who also experiences Anxiety, I am amongst these 4 million – and I’m not alone. According to Diabetes UK, one in six people with Type 1 Diabetes and one in 5 people with Type 2 Diabetes experience moderate to severe anxiety symptoms. 

Moreover, as many as 40% of Diabetics admit to struggling with their psychological wellbeing since diagnosis.

This is a staggering statistic – and shows the straining impact that having a long-term chronic condition or Disability can have upon mental health.

Secondly, the isolating impact of the pandemic has presented serious challenges for those with Disabilities in caring for their mental health, regardless of whether they had a pre-existing mental illness. According to a report by Mind, around 60% of adults and 68% of young people admitted that their mental health worsened over lockdown.

It is clear that the struggle to keep mentally well during this turbulent time is universal. Given the extra considerations that disabled people have tiresomely had to factor into their daily life, this community are particularly in need of support, compassion, and understanding. 

How Art Has Helped Me

Whilst the pandemic has provided a seemingly never-ending source of stress and anxiety, there have been glimmers of hope. Personally, I am very creative and deeply enjoy the chance to immerse myself in different projects – whether this is photography, painting, or collage. Engaging in the arts, whether practically or through watching programmes such as Grayson Perry’s Art Club, has demonstrated that art is as much about the process of creation as it is the pretty picture at the end – if not more so.

The process of creating itself is deeply therapeutic! Again, I’m not the only one to find this. One blogger for Mind, Clarrie-Anne, discussed how painting allowed her to feel “inspired, free, and empowered”. Moreover, many health organisations have also discussed the benefit of arts for mental wellbeing.

Arts for Wellbeing at Arc

I’ve had the brilliant opportunity to work at Arc since February, as part of my university course. Since working here, I’ve been exposed to all of the wonderful activities and programmes that Arc run for those in Stockport who live with mental ill-health.

Championing the fact that “creativity can transform lives”, Arc have worked diligently to ensure that their programmes and events still provide a vital means of support during lockdown. From the Keeping Us Together activity programme – which I actually designed an activity for -, to Saturday Art Clubs via Zoom, Arc continually proves the importance of being creative for mental health recovery. 

To see more of Amie’s work, visit the virtual exhibition she curated for us, plus this article examining the specific challenges of curating an online exhibition whilst working remotely, the future of digital technologies in the arts and raising three important themes: remote collaboration, the importance of wellbeing, and structural inequalities.