Blog | Phase three, face masks and mental health

29th July 2020

Phase 3 of recovery from coronavirus has brought new changes to lockdown in Scotland. In our latest blog, our Public Affairs Assistant, Hannah Brisbane, explores the issue of face coverings being made mandatory in shops and what it means to people with mental health problems.  

On the 10th of July, Scotland entered into Phase three  of lockdown easing which brought about the most significant changes to lockdown since it began. We’re now allowed to meet up in larger groups outside and inside, children under 12 no longer need to socially distance and hairdressers have (finally) reopened.

One of the biggest changes of Phase three  was the decision to make face coverings mandatory in shops, alongside public transport. According to the Scottish Government, wearing a face covering reduces the risk of someone who has the virus spreading it to others, especially in enclosed spaces where physical distancing is more difficult.[ii]  

It’s worth pointing out that a face covering doesn’t need to be a fancy face mask like the ones healthcare workers wear; it just needs to be a piece of fabric that covers your mouth and nose, ties comfortably around your head and allows you to breathe through it. You could use something as simple as a scarf, bandana or, if you’re feeling creative, a homemade mask made out of cloth.

It’s been great to see so many people wearing face coverings since the rule was brought in. However, it’s important to remember that there are lots of reasons why someone might not be able to wear one, including for mental health reasons.

SAMH has heard from people with mental health problems who can’t wear a face covering because it causes anxiety or claustrophobia. At the same time, these people are worried about being judged by others for not wearing one.

One person told us,

“I suffer from what can only be described as social anxiety and endure intense anxiety, bordering on full-on panic attacks, in public places particularly shops.  The consequences of lockdown (queues outside shops, one-way systems, etc.) have already meant that all progress I made re. my anxiety has now been destroyed. I simply cannot think of anything worse than having my nose and mouth covered and feeling like my breathing is restricted while suffering from intense anxiety symptoms. “

It should be emphasised that the Scottish Government do not expect you to wear a face covering if you have “…a health condition or you are disabled and a face covering would be inappropriate because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety…” [iii]

If you’re someone who can’t wear a face covering, nobody should ask you to prove why. Official guidance issued to shop owners states that retail staff should not be asked to enforce the new rule and also advises against refusing entry or service to a customer without a face covering. Many large supermarkets, like Lidl and Sainsbury’s, have confirmed that their staff will not police the rule. While it is the job of Police Scotland to ensure people are complying, the First Minister has stated that this will be done “proportionately and sensitively”.[iv]

If you’re still worried about being challenged for not wearing a covering, Disability Equality Scotland has created an unofficial exemption card that you can print or save on your phone to show people in shops or public transport.

Alternatively, if you’re someone who can wear a face covering then please be mindful of why someone else might not be able to. Lockdown has been challenging for everyone, with or without mental health problems, so let’s try to show each other some kindness and respect.

Remember, wearing a face covering is just one way we can keep each other safe; it’s still just as important to wash your hands regularly and keep a safe distance from others.

If you’d like more information regarding anxiety check out our Understanding Anxiety publication. You can also find out the latest information for protecting your mental health during coronavirus via our information hub.