Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on nation's mental health, study says

Lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic has been tough for us all.

But a leading mental health charity has released a survey to show the extent the last few months has had on the nation’s mental health.

Mind says that the government needs to plan how we can recover from this mental health crisis.

In a survey of 16,000 people during lockdown, two out of three (65%) of adults over 25 and three-quarters (75%) of young people aged 13-24 with an existing mental health problem reported worse mental health. 

More than one in five adults (22%) with no previous experience of poor mental health now say that their mental health is poor or very poor. 

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People said not being able to see family, loneliness, not being able to go outside, concerns about the virus itself, and boredom all contributed to the decline in their mental health.

Although lockdown is now easing, the charity says that many of the underlying issues won’t change and more people could be struggling due to unemployment and financial difficulties predicted as the economy tries to recover after the pandemic.

Mind said that there will be a prolonged worsening of wellbeing and waiting lists for access to NHS mental health services will get worse, seeing an increase in the numbers of people experiencing longer-term mental health problems.

The charity also highlights that people living in social housing are more likely to have poor mental health and to have seen it get worse during the pandemic. Over half (52%) of people living in social housing said their mental health was poor or very poor, and over two thirds (67%) say that their mental health got worse during lockdown.

Over half (58%) of under-18s who receive free school meals said their mental health was poor or very poor (vs 41% not receiving free school meals), with three quarters (73%) of this group saying that it got worse during lockdown.

When it came to those struggling with work, those who were unemployed and seeking work during the pandemic were more likely to have lower wellbeing scores and worse mental health than those who were in employment.

People who were furloughed, changed jobs or lost their job due to coronavirus saw their mental health and wellbeing decline more than those whose employment status didn’t change, with three quarters (73%) reporting lower than average wellbeing scores.

The charity wants the government to do five things as part of its recovery plan for mental health: investing in community services; protecting those most at risk and addressing inequalities faced by people from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic communities; reforming the Mental Health Act; providing a financial safety net through the benefits system; and supporting children and young people. 

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: ‘The coronavirus pandemic is as much a mental health emergency as it is a physical one. The devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, and the inevitable recession that lies ahead will leave a deep and lasting scar on our nation’s mental health.

‘Those of us who were already struggling with our mental health have fared worst, but we also know that many people who were previously well will now develop mental health problems, as a direct consequence of the pandemic. 

‘We have been calling on successive UK governments to put mental health at the heart of the policy and political agenda. This has never been more critical than it is now.

‘As we look to the future, those in power must make the right choices to rebuild services and support, and to ensure that the society that comes after the pandemic is kinder, fairer and safer for everyone experiencing a mental health problem. This is can only be achieved by putting mental health at the very centre of the UK Government’s recovery plans, not only in relation to the NHS, but across all domestic departments.

‘We, and our colleagues in the voluntary sector, are willing and able to work with colleagues across Westminster to make this happen.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We recognise the impact that this unprecedented global pandemic can have on people’s mental health.

‘NHS mental health services have remained open, delivering support online and over the phone, and we published guidance at the beginning of lockdown to provide advice on steps individuals can take to support their wellbeing and manage mental health.

‘We have also awarded £4.2 million to mental health and wellbeing charities like Samaritans, Young Minds and Bipolar UK. This is in addition to £5 million already made available to charities through the Coronavirus Mental Health Response Fund.’

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