Coping with COVID-19: The sociomaterial dimensions of living with pre-existing mental illness during the early stages of the coronavirus crisis

26 November 2021

In this article, we use the case study method to detail the experiences of five participants who reported living with pre-existing mental illness during COVID-19. We adopted a sociomaterial analytical approach, seeking to identify how human and nonhuman agents came together to generate states of wellbeing or distress during this challenging period. As the case studies show, feelings of anxiety, fear and risk were generated from the following sociomaterial conditions: loss of face-to-face contact with friends and family members; concerns about hygiene and infecting others; financial stress; loss of regular paid employment or volunteering work; public spaces; and the behaviour of unknown others in public spaces. The agents and practices that emerged as most important for opening capacities for coping and maintaining wellness during lockdown included: the space of the home; contact with a small number of intimate others; online therapeutic care; practising self-care skills learnt from previous difficult times; helping and supporting others; engaging in leisure activities; and the companionship of pets. Contributing to an affirmative approach to more-than-human assemblages of health, distress and recovery, these findings demonstrate what bodies can do in times of crisis and the agents and practices that can generate capacities for coping.