Being schizophrenic in lockdown: ‘I feel claustrophobic and wash my hands more than ever before’

PUBLISHED: 06:00 29 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:40 29 March 2020

Sarah Snelling speaks about how to cope with schizophrenia during the coronavirus lockdown and how it is impacting her mental health.   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sarah Snelling speaks about how to cope with schizophrenia during the coronavirus lockdown and how it is impacting her mental health. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN


A mum-of-two who was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia says being in lockdown has made her “more anxious than ever before” as she urges others with mental health conditions to take each day as they come.

Sarah Snelling, 29, used to scrub her hands more than 70 times a day due to her struggles with postpartum psychosis and schizophrenia – which made her concerned for her children’s welfare.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic unfolding, the Ipswich mother says she is slightly more anxious than usual and “frustrated” at being partially housebound.

Sarah was detained under the Mental Health Act in 2018 following the birth of her second child, after having suicidal thoughts, hallucinating and feeling completely paranoid, which made her think she had to clean her hands constantly otherwise something bad would happen to her two girls.

More: Ipswich mum washed hands 70 times a day during battle with postpartum psychosis

She was always concerned for her children’s safety and worried that they would be kidnapped, admitting it was “a really scary time” for her whole family.

After being discharged from the mental health hospital for a second time in January 2020 – Sarah was diagnosed as being schizophrenic and now takes regular medication and uses cognitive behavioural therapy to keep on top of her mental health.

Schizophrenia is a severe long-term mental health condition, which causes a range of different psychological symptoms.

Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a type of psychosis. This means the person may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.

Speaking of how she is coping during the coronavirus lockdown, Sarah said: “I feel very claustrophobic at the fact that I am unable to leave the house.

“It is very frustrating and a little hard having two young children to entertain all day everyday, however we are managing okay and thankfully we have a large garden to play in. I have even been exercising in my garden daily and going for a walk once a day.”

Having schizophrenia is challenging in itself for the single-mum, who says her medications can give her a lot of excess energy which needs to be burned off.

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To cope with being partially housebound Sarah does a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy and takes medication.

“I am a high-functioning schizophrenic so I cope quite well in everyday life unless I have a psychotic episode,” said Sarah, who is now training to become a peer support worker for the Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity.

“But I am very conscious of getting the virus and its made me mentally very uneasy, but I am trying to stay positive and frequently wash my hands to stay clean.”

A medical chief from the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) warned they expected to see a rise in people struggling with their mental health because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Chief medical officer Dr Dan Dalton said: “There is no debate that it is having a huge impact on mental wellbeing and everyone needs to do what they can to help each other.

“It impacts on people already with mental health needs, but it will also impact on people isolating and our staff too.”

Mr Dalton shared three tips to look after your mental health during the pandemic - eat and sleep well, limit the amount of news you watch and get exercise.

Sarah’s advice for anyone suffering with a mental health condition is to “take each day as it comes”.

She said: “Trying to abide by a routine usually helps especially if you have children and also having a hobby is good to take your mind off things.

“Always reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope, there is always support available depending on your mental health condition.”

As of Thursday, 139 ex-NHS staff had signed up to return to the region’s mental health trust through the coronavirus crisis.

• The NSFT is running web sessions twice a week for anyone needing support. They are every Thursday from 1pm to 3pm and every Tuesday from 10am to midday.

You can join them by visiting

• Anyone needing help can also contact the NSFT on 0300 123 1503.

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