Why more must be done to stem the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic
Up until now, the eyes of the world have been on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Much of the Governmental support work has been focusing on the economy. But underlying all of these other problems caused by the global pandemic is a growing surge in mental health problems.
Data and analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RC Psych) shows that England is in the midst of a mental health crisis, which directly stems from the pandemic. IN addition, it appears that the youngest generations are suffering the most from conditions including anxiety and depression.
Record numbers of people are struggling with their mental health
Record numbers of under-18s and adults contacted the under-pressure NHS throughout 2020. Many of these people are suffering from severe depression and anxiety or were experiencing a mental health crisis. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the NHS show that these record numbers have been recorded since March 2020, when the first lockdowns and measures to contain the virus kicked in.
Present of RC Psych Adrian James warns that this mental health crisis is already “terrifying” and that “it will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.” Health services are in danger of being completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people who are asking for help.
Young people are badly impacted according to NHS mental health services data., Analysis shows that between April and December 2020, the number of under-18s referred to them increased by 80,226 in England alone compared with 2019. Furthermore, a lack of access to the right kind of assistance is exacerbating these figures even more.
Between April and December 2020:
· The highest number of children under 18 ever recorded were referred to the NHS for mental health support. The 372,438 children referred represent a 28% increase on the same months of 2019.
· Under-18s were given 3.5 million sessions of mental health treatment, which is a 20% increase on 2019’s figures.
· Young people who needed emergency or urgent help due to mental health crises increased by 20% to 18,269.
Impact of the pandemic is affecting millions of people
For adults, figures are also extremely concerning. Before COVID-19, according to NHS figures, about one in ten adults in England suffered from moderate to severe clinical depression. Between March and June 2020, the number almost doubled to just less than one in five adults needing mental health assistance.
Unsurprisingly, mental health treatment sessions for adults rose from 15.8 million in 2019 to 17.5 million in 2020. A record high number of adults also needed emergency care for mental health crises, reaching 159, 347 (up 2.2% from 2019).
Experts believe that the increased isolation, job insecurity, financial worries, loss and bereavement, suffering from COVID or long-COVID, worries about other illnesses, concerns over access to healthcare, vaccinations and financial assistance combined with poor communication from the Government all combine together to cause extreme mental distress.
The UK has suffered one of the highest death tolls in the world and there has been much insecurity and confusion surrounding everything from financial assistance to school closures and lockdown rules. Living at this level of uncertainty for prolonged periods of time is going to push people to extreme mental health distress in some circumstances.
A collaborative approach is needed to help people recover their wellbeing
The Centre for Mental Health say that upwards of ten million people in the UK now need help with their mental health. This figure includes around 15 million children. There were, of course, high levels of mental health problems before the pandemic, but the impact of the events of the last 14 months are likely to have long-lasting implications.
We are, of course, still living with COVID-19. In the UK, the vaccination programme is far from complete (although it has come a long way) and the economy has a long hard climb ahead. It’s also difficult to quantify as yet how much support people have received and how much of that made a difference to their mental health.
While the UK’s mental health minister Nadine Dorries says that she is “committed to supporting the mental wellbeing of everyone”, it’s far from clear how this will happen. The Government has so far pledged an extra £2.3 billion to expand mental health care in the UK, but given the impact of 11 years of austerity, this won’t go far.
The pandemic has also shown just how unequal society in the UK is in 2021. People with easy access to social and economic resources have fared a lot better than those that don’t. Poverty and food insecurity has made the pandemic far harder on certain sectors of society, and this is something that must be addressed by the Government assistance offered.
Recovery can’t be led by the Government alone, however. I believe that cross-sector collaboration is absolutely vital to help people through the next few years. And this includes business leaders and managers. Taking the right steps in the workplace, whether that’s still virtual or now in person, to ensure people feel supported and listened to will go a long way to helping this societal problem.
This year will be another challenging one, and there will be yet more impact on our collective mental health. For those suffering most, there is a moral and business case for employers to go out of their way to support. Whether this is being flexible with time, understanding that people need more support, or by communicating openly and reassuringly, there are many ways employers can mitigate the mental distress of their staff.