A ‘Hidden’ Mental Health Pandemic – The Lasting Impact of COVID-19

Articles COVID-19

It has now been one year since lockdown was first announced and we were instructed to “stay at home”. Here at Brain-Based, we mark this anniversary by reflecting on the last year and its long-term ramifications on our mental health.

Source: photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.

The past year has been one filled with uncertainty, isolation and fear. Increased unemployment, economic instability and reduced social interaction and access to services have immensely impacted people’s lives and wellbeing. A recent University College London Covid-19 social study examined 53,328 UK adults by collecting weekly surveys from March until May, 2020 (Fancourt et al., 2020). They found that 18% of people reported experiencing suicidal or harmful thoughts. 5% reported harming themselves at least once while in lockdown. The study also alarmingly found that 16% of people suffered with moderate to severe anxiety, while 22% experienced moderate to severe depression. These findings are in line with data from the NHS, which claims that more people are now in contact with mental health services than ever before. A recent study has found that in 2020, the percentage of patients experiencing mental health problems increased by 10% compared to pre-Covid trends (Banks and Xu, 2020).

While the majority of studies examine the short-term impact of Covid-19 on mental health, we are left to draw conclusions from previous experiences. Past disasters have taught us that some of the long-term mental health problems experienced by survivors include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, phobias and various neuropsychiatric disorders. These events have also been linked with increased rates of domestic violence, addiction, internet usage and increased drug and alcohol abuse.

The Centre for Mental Health has recently released their mental health forecasts. They suggest that as much as 20% of the UK population, accounting for 10 million adults and 1.5 million children, could potentially require new or additional mental health support as a direct result of the pandemic. They also expect the numbers to increase, as the UK faces continued uncertainty.

As death toll and hospital admissions are falling rapidly in the UK, we are hoping that an end is in sight. However, as we return back to normality, it is important to prioritise our mental health. Policy makers should urgently implement mitigation strategies and invest in additional mental health support for healthcare providers, patients recovering from Covid-19 and their families, and also for the general public. Overlooking the long-term effects of this pandemic on our mental health would cause even more distress and suffering for both patients and the NHS.

Please note that if you or anyone you know is suffering with suicidal thoughts, the Samaritans, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, can be contacted on 116 123 or via email at jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. For individuals under the age of 19, you may also contact the Childline at 0800 1111. For additional resources, please see below and also refer https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/.

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Source: Upton High, “Learners- emotional health and wellbeing” (2020).

Fancourt et al. (2020). Trajectories of depression and anxiety during enforced isolation due to Covid-19: longitudinal analyses of 59,318 adults in the UK with and without diagnosed mental illness.

Banks and Xu (2020). The mental health effects of the first two months of lockdown and social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

Featured Image: Pexels

Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla

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