In a surprising twist, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, has had his private diary entries from the Covid crisis in 2020 published for public consumption. Initially intended as a therapeutic tool to support his mental well-being after long days of assisting ministers, Vallance’s diary has now inadvertently become a public record of the UK’s pandemic response. While the practice of keeping a handwritten diary may appear outdated in our fast-paced digital world, it can actually have profound benefits for one’s mental health.
According to psychotherapist and author Julia Samuel, journaling serves as a means of releasing thoughts and emotions, much like engaging in conversation. In fact, research has shown that journaling can be as effective as talking therapies in managing emotions, reducing anxiety and stress, and even enhancing the immune system and mood. Whether or not the intention is for the diary to be read by others, the act of writing itself has a soothing effect by allowing individuals to express their emotions and clarify their thoughts.
For some individuals, such as former doctor Adam Kay, the knowledge that their diaries may be read by a broader audience alters the way they write. While the quality of the writing may improve, the psychological benefits may diminish as the focus shifts from personal expression to potential publication. Kay, who transformed his diaries into a best-selling book and an award-winning TV series, initially used his diary as a coping mechanism amidst the pressures of his demanding professional life.
Throughout history, numerous diarists have captivated the public’s imagination, from Samuel Pepys and Anne Frank to more contemporary figures like Alan Clark and Tony Benn. These diaries offer valuable insights into daily life, personal experiences, and historical responses to significant events that may be absent from official records. Diaries can serve as invaluable historical sources, providing rich details and diverse perspectives.
Nonetheless, there are potential drawbacks to diary-keeping. Some individuals may feel guilty for not maintaining regular entries, while others may experience discomfort if their diary contains criticisms of others. Privacy is also a concern, as diaries are not always as private as intended, with the possibility of unintended audiences gaining access to them.
In the case of Sir Patrick Vallance, his diary entries were originally intended solely for his personal benefit. He found solace in dedicating a few minutes each evening to jotting down his thoughts, allowing him to focus on the following day. However, these personal reflections inadvertently became public critiques of the government’s handling of the pandemic when they were disclosed during the Covid inquiry.
In conclusion, maintaining a diary can have significant mental health benefits by providing an outlet for emotions, clarifying thoughts, and fostering a sense of release and tranquility. Whether it remains a private record or becomes a public document, the act of writing in a diary holds therapeutic value.