2022: A Year In Mental Health Through The Eyes Of Therapists

Photographed by Leia Morrison
2022 has been far from a reprieve from the beginning of this decade. We may have had fewer lockdowns and the most freedom of movement since pre-COVID days but it would be foolish to claim the pandemic is over. It just stopped being headline news. Instead we have had a series of news items both so serious (the death of the queen, the Ukraine invasion, the ongoing strikes and cost of living crisis) and so ridiculous (the Will Smith Oscars slap, Liz Truss lettuce) that any sense of stability was regularly knocked out from underneath us.
If the first years of the decade were defined by a constant hum of anxious uncertainty, 2022 has been characterised by overwhelm and overstimulation. We were granted access to all these experiences and places we’d been denied, but who can say they’re really the same person they were in 2019? Even if you are technically in the same position as you were pre-COVID (and so many of us aren’t), being able to go to pubs, clubs and bars, back into the office or on holiday felt different this year.
This is of course to say nothing of the increase in people reckoning with the likes of anxiety, self-harm, depression and OCD. The psychological impacts of the past few years have been both ephemeral and acute, and the people who have registered that most profoundly are those who have been part of the support system propping people up.
Here, three therapists share their takeaways from supporting people through it in their clinical practice and offer advice for continuing to move forward.

Dr Sheri Jacobson, founder of and the expert behind Ask A Therapist

This year there seems to be an elevated level of distress and dissatisfaction, particularly with children and teenagers. Added to that is the increase of general costs we're all facing and noticing a decline in purchasing power. That has been set in contrast with how many experienced lockdown, where expenses were generally low and there seemed to be a lot more disposable income (if you were lucky to have a stable income).
Having to go back to spending money on commuting, together with increases in costs of food, energy and rents, is a dramatic shift. That's just an example – obviously many people didn't have that financial flexibility to begin with but it's an example of the ways that, in 2022, day-to-day expenses have really rocketed. It's a real hike from maybe having surplus savings to now not being able to afford certain things.
It's a financial impoverishment but that also links with the psychological – we often don't feel as good when we don't have supplemental resources. We feel we don't have the ability to do things we could before. In other words, it may lead to a sense of curtailing our freedom. 
Looking into 2023, I think it's important to try and hone a good old-fashioned, resilient mindset as much as possible. We can always wish for things but there can be benefits to maybe having a more stoical approach of anticipating challenges, readying ourselves for them. Not becoming overly prepared or living a reality that doesn't exist but equipping ourselves to deal with these further difficulties if indeed they do arise. And I think that will equip us to be able to handle them or if not, celebrate when they don't come.
The other thing to practise is gratitude: taking stock of the things that we do have. The majority of our thoughts are negative so it’s important to, where we can, make mental notes of the things that have gone well for us and the things we are pleased about and thankful for. It really does help give us this long-lasting boost and sense of greater satisfaction.

Marriage and Family Therapist, co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, New York and In-House Relationship Expert for Paired Moraya Seeger DeGeare, expert behind Can We Talk?

As much as the pandemic was really challenging and stressful for everyone, especially people who already had higher anxiety, there was a part of the bubbles and locking down that was actually really comforting: giving people space to work on relationships, find new schedules and hobbies, and settle into new patterns. And when the world started opening up again properly in 2022, some of the folks with higher anxiety actually found that really hard. Because now we're doing another adjustment but we're not actually going back to the world being that much safer in terms of getting sick. People are still getting sick and getting COVID but now you have to function out in the world.
I think that was a really painful piece for a lot of people. I work with a lot of clients who are transgender and many of them could be themselves within that bubble and the close people that they had come out to. They didn't have to worry about being 'clocked' from simple things like facial hair, they could just let go. 2022 I think created a whole new shit show in that sense – the sentiment was: 'I actually really found my comfort feeling within this very small community and then I have been forced out of that comfort but the world is still scary.' That summarises what I was working on a lot for individuals and couples.

A big thing that I've been working on, and would encourage people to focus on in 2023, is this idea of building and returning to community.

Moraya Seeger DeGeare
A big thing that I've been working on, and would encourage people to focus on in 2023, is this idea of building and returning to community. We just came through such a traumatic event in the global sense and so there's a lot of folks who had trauma that was more activated from this level of insecurity. So I've been really working on helping people separate themselves from a trauma response. Really consistent work that I've been doing is helping people feel secure in their smaller bubbles. Building on that community feeling because when it feels like it's spinning out of control, where do you start? Let's have more routines, more order, more structure, and feel really confident that you know how to go back to a level of structure together as a family or as a unit. Let's make sure everything's good here, because we can't control what's going on out there. 
Think of that not as a selfish thing. It's having the sense of the values you have yourself or as a family but also having a sense of who you are and who your family is, it's going to help you sort of feel safer out in the world. There's so much you can do with that grounding out in the world. If home isn't okay, right, it's so hard to be able to support your wider community.

Ali Ross, psychotherapist and spokesperson for UKCP

I think a lot of people are still knackered. Part of that is reflected in the fact that I had to double check what happened in 2022 because COVID has completely skewed my and my clients' sense of time. People still aren't doing the same sort of travelling to the same extent; their life structures have changed; they're not necessarily doing the same shift patterns at work; a lot of the time not even in the same jobs; they're not seeing the same people. And so people remain chronologically disorientated.
People can confidently say that the queen died this year, which has had a particular significance culturally, even if you’re not a monarchist. Some things are just constant no matter what the uncertainty and the queen was one of them. But then if the queen died, that means I could die. So for some people that was a realisation that we are all totally frail and fragile and human, even the COVID-deniers.

I had to double check what happened in 2022 because COVID has completely skewed my and my clients' sense of time.

Ali Ross
It's been a triple whammy of post-COVID fatigue and compassion fatigue, a huge awareness of mortality because of the global focus on the queen's death, and then the consistent narrative around climate that humans could be wiped out. If you're catastrophising, it's not hard to reach a point of [feeling like] we're all in danger, we're all mortal and the Earth is fucked. At its most reductive and anxious, I think that's one of the narratives that's going on. Then people go two ways with that: either they stick their fingers in their ears and get drunk or high or shop on Vinted or whatever. Or they become people who want to shake the world and go: 'Why aren't people waking up to how scary this is?'
Wrapped around all of that is the new normal, where people are realising that they don't have to go back to how things were: 'Some of the change I reached during the pandemic is welcome and I feel wiser for it. And some of that change bears it scars and I've changed my gait because of the weight of blows that I've taken.'
Something that has helped me most in terms of acute crisis is the value of just taking one breath. I don't want to say mindful breath because I think that as soon as someone says mindfulness a lot of people roll their eyes. But genuinely, when things are really overwhelming, I remember: 'Just take a breath.' And because I've practised meditating and done over a decade of personal therapy now, I'm pretty good at just being able to bring myself into the here and now with a breath. It allows me to take a pause and be like: 'Okay, I'm here in all of this. This is what's going on for me.' And that connection to myself in that moment helps me look after myself, because I might realise that actually I'm alright; or no, I'm really quite fucked and I need a rest; or no, I'm grieving right now or I'm anxious or I'm feeling really loved up or horny or hungry or whatever it is.
It's so common in all the churning of the world to not actually attend to ourselves. And while it's simple, it's not easy to change that pattern. Take a breath and in that breath you can intuit how you are – then you've got all the information you need to look after yourself. The thing is, though, it takes skill to acquire that ability to intuit and that's what things like therapy and meditation and that kind of stuff help skill up: being able to know where you are in the chaos.
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