The UK government has been urged to put mental health “at the very centre” of its coronavirus recovery plans, after results of a new survey revealed the stark impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental wellbeing.
The call comes from national mental health charity Mind, which surveyed more than 16,000 people during lockdown.
“The coronavirus pandemic is as much as a mental health emergency as it is a physical one”
The charity said its findings highlighted how the “pandemic’s effects on mental health have been disproportionate” and that frontline workers were among the groups “more likely” to report that their mental health had declined.
According to the survey, 65% of adults over 25 and 75% of young people aged 13-24 with an existing mental health problem reported worse mental health.
In addition, 22% of adults with no previous experience of mental health problems now reported their mental wellbeing was poor or very poor.
Other key findings showed that one in four people who tried to access NHS mental health services during the pandemic were unable to get support.
Meanwhile, a further one in three adults and more than one in four young people did not try to access support services during lockdown, because they did not think that their problem was serious enough.
Overall, the groups of people more likely to report that their mental health has declined during the outbreak included women, frontline workers, people with disabilities and people with eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or personality disorders.
A report on the findings warned that the “the lasting effects of trauma and severe economic pressures will be keenly felt by millions – those working on the frontline, people who haven’t had an opportunity to grieve, those who have spent months alone and lonely, young people who had their support network taken away overnight”.
The disproportionate effect of coronavirus on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities was also discussed in the report, which was published today.
While the charity’s research “did not find a significant difference in the overall rate of decline in mental health for people from BAME communities in comparison to white people, they did report that their mental health got worse”.
“The impact of lockdown and the inevitable recession will leave a deep and lasting scar on our nation’s mental health”
“We know that people from BAME communities are more likely to experience a mental health problem in any given week.
“Although our research does not show that their mental health has declined disproportionately, it is likely to now be even worse than that of other demographic groups,” the report said.
People living in social housing were also more likely to have poor mental health and to have seen it get worse during the pandemic, noted Mind.
The survey found more than half of people living in social housing said their mental health was poor or very poor, and over two thirds said their mental health had gotten worse during lockdown.
Meanwhile, 58% of under-18’s who received free school meals reported their mental health was poor or very poor and 75% of this group said it had gotten worse in the pandemic.
People who were unemployed and seeking work during the outbreak of Covid-19 were also more likely to have lower wellbeing scores and worse mental health compared to those in employment.
Those 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 73% reporting lower than average wellbeing scores compared to 66% of those whose employment did not change.
The charity predicted that prolonged worsening of wellbeing and inadequate access to NHS mental health services would see a marked increase in the numbers of people experiencing longer-term mental health problems.
As a result, it has set five key tests for the government’s recovery plan on mental health: investing in community services; protecting those most at risk and addressing inequalities faced by BAME communities; reforming the Mental Health Act; providing a financial safety net for the benefits system; and supporting children and young people.
Mind’s five tests for the UK government in full:
- Test 1: Invest in community services – We need extra investment for local mental health and social care services in England to help people stay well.
- Test 2: Protect those most at risk – The UK government must provide targeted support for groups most at risk of developing mental health problems as a result of the crisis.
- Test 3: Reform the Mental Health Act – The UK government must act on the 2018 Independent Review’s recommendations to reform this outdated and discriminatory legislation.
- Test 4: Provide a financial safety net – The UK government must act to prevent people with mental health problems falling into poverty.
- Test 5: Support children and young people – We need to understand the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental and put this at the heart of recovery plans in England
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, flagged that the coronavirus pandemic was “as much as 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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Farmer said the charity had been “calling on successive UK governments to put mental health at the heart of the policy and political agenda” and warned that 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,” he said.
“This 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.”
He added that Mind, alongside colleagues in the voluntary sector, were “willing and able to work with colleagues across Westminster to make this happen”.
In response to the report, 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.”
They added that the government had “awarded £4.2m to mental health and wellbeing charities like Samaritans, Young Minds and Bipolar UK”.
“This is in addition to £5m already made available to charities through the Coronavirus Mental Health Response Fund,” they said.
Nursing Times has launched a campaign called Covid-19: Are You OK? to highlight the mental health needs of nurses on the frontline and to lobby for immediate and long-lasting support.
A survey for the campaign found that 33% of respondents rated their overall mental health and wellbeing as “bad” or “very bad” and 50% described themselves as “a lot” more anxious or stressed since the pandemic.
The survey, which had 3,500 respondents, also revealed nurses’ concerns around access to personal protective equipment, contracting Covid-19, being redeployed and witnessing the death of patients without family present.