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Locked down with mental health issues

Cycling kept Karl Outerbridge's mental health challenges at bay; shelter-in-place took that coping mechanism away from him.

Over the past three weeks, he has struggled with severe depression in the tiny home where he lives alone in North Hamilton, with no windows and no internet.

His only distractions are a single television channel and the walks he is allowed within his half-mile perimeter.

“I wrote to Wayne Caines on March 30 saying, ‘When you do this shut down, it's going to have a big impact on people's mental healthcare needs',” said Mr Outerbridge, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder.

He did not receive a response from the Minister of National Security; his e-mail also stressed the need for “wi-fi hotspots” so that people without internet access could have sessions with their doctors.

The shelter-in-place order came at an unfortunate time for the cyclist, who represented Bermuda at the Pan Am Games in Cuba in 1991 and in 2017 told The Royal Gazette how he had been damaged by sexual abuse as a child.

On March 19, his psychiatrist, Grant Farquhar, agreed to reduce his medication because, by riding “a lot more”, Mr Outerbridge had managed to improve his mental health. The cycling ban that came with shelter-in-place ruined that plan.

“Everything was working great and then the lockdown kicks in — I can't practise my sport and I have less medication. The bottom fell out. I had severe depression, anxiety attacks ...

“The first week or so was flippin' awful, but I'm glad I was able to find a way to get in contact with my psychiatrist.”

He went “three or four days” without food before friends checked in on him and offered to bring him groceries. He is grateful now for the daily meal he gets through an island-wide food programme supported by The Loren at Pink Beach and its private-sector partners.

“How my ADHD anxiety works, the idea of standing in a line to get into something like a grocery store — repeatedly — I would literally be sick on the sidewalk. I wouldn't be able to do it.”

A side condition to his disorder presented a separate challenge for Mr Outerbridge, who spent years in the reinsurance industry before joining the Bermuda Fire Service. He then started a company, Outside the Box Thinking, but a chain of events in 2011 left him homeless.

“A lot of times people with ADHD or similar, they have what is called an executive function disorder. You might be able to build, design and do mathematical calculations to send the space shuttle up into the stratosphere, but yet you'll never remember how to tie your laces properly.

“I wouldn't remember as far as what grocery day is assigned to my name. It's stuff like that, the basic little things that everyone else takes for granted, that would be the very thing we would trip up on. But the very complex stuff — that's what we're good at.”

Even with the anticipated end of shelter-in-place on Saturday he remains frustrated by some of its restrictions.

“Other countries are saying we're going to be cycling in and out of this. We've got to make sure the rules are right, so this can function long-term. It becomes even more frustrating knowing that I can't do something that helps me mentally, helps me physically and I want to do it by myself.

“What the Government's doing as far as social-distancing and shutting down anything where it is causing groups of people to congregate, I get that. But the rules need to allow for people to get out of the house. If not, long-term, when we can get back to work, you're going to have a bunch of fried-out, burnt-out people.”

Dr Farquhar helped him lay out his concerns in applying for an exemption to the riding ban.

“Sometimes these periods get so bad it's almost like I blank out. I could picture myself just getting on my bike and just riding. And the idea was, let me make sure I do this because in the event I have one of those moments and I get in front of the court, at least I could say to the court that I did attempt to ask for an exemption.”

The refusal added to the stress of living alone during lockdown and being disconnected from the world. Unemployed and on financial assistance, the money Mr Outerbridge receives does not cover the cost of internet access.

“One of the ways I used to stay in touch with the psychologist and the psychiatrist was through e-mail — everything was in writing,” he said.

He explained that he relies on free wi-fi in the City of Hamilton and the iPad he has used since 2012.

“I have to try and find somewhere, a hidden spot in the city because I'm not supposed to be out, to log on to the internet so I can have a video conference with my psychiatrist.”

Although there is a hotline for mental health emergencies, it is not an option for him.

“There's just no way in God's green earth I would be dialling that number and just talk to some random person. It needs to be a relationship. And they should have made sure that people had access to these types of services [before enacting shelter-in-place].”

A neighbour who died last week after overdosing on heroin offered further proof, he said.

“Despite the challenges I have, I've been spending time working with [people] with mental health and substance abuse issues. [In my letter to Mr Caines,] I said once you clamp it down, everyone's going to become stressed out. The people who have psychological issues or substance abuse issues, how on earth are they going to get to MWI or Turning Point [with no public transportation in place]?

“They're putting all these controls in place not realising that they're actually causing people psychological harm.”

Coping mechanism: Karl Outerbridge cycles to help with his mental health problems, but cannot go out riding because of the shelter-in-place order (File photograph)

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Published April 28, 2020 at 2:00 pm (Updated April 29, 2020 at 1:13 pm)

Locked down with mental health issues

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