It is more vital than ever that mental health services are not forgotten, but rather included at the forefront of the national response towards the pandemic, writes Asha Patel
The covid-19 pandemic has affected us all, in different ways and to different degrees. Emerging research shows the impact covid-19 has had on mental well-being pose significant cause for concern. It is now apparent that the pandemic has affected some groups more dramatically than others with respect to mental health and well-being.
The correlation between good mental health and physical health, social health and the economy are well documented. The impact of a global pandemic goes beyond coping with normal stresses of life and creates a sense of anxiety, fear and hypervigilance; this was apparent from the outset with empty toilet paper aisles in supermarkets, the disappearance of hand sanitizer and the scarcity of paracetamol.
Research has been taking place across the UK to understand the effects of the pandemic on our mental health. A study by the IFS concluded that collectively, our mental health has deteriorated by about 8.1 per cent, measured by GHQ-12 measures of mental health, distress and wellbeing once pre-pandemic trends were accounted for. This deterioration of mental health has not been observed evenly across the population. British writer Damian Barr commented: “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar”. This is a fitting description of the fundamental disparities in health equalities in mental wellbeing we can observe in the UK.
Those with poor mental health before the pandemic hit generally suffered the largest deterioration. Young adults and women have also been disproportionately affected and these groups were shown to have worse mental health prior to the pandemic. The decline in mental wellbeing seen during the pandemic has been found to be twice as large in women as compared to men.
Forecasts from the Centre for Mental Health show at least 500,000 individuals in the UK may experience ill mental health as a result of the pandemic
Further inequalities have emerged. Those living with young children showed a significant increase in mental distress compared with households with no children. There was an increase in mental distress relative to pre-pandemic trends among those who were employed before the pandemic.
Experts have indicated that the pandemic is here to stay. The implications of this growing body of evidence are significant and should not be ignored. As easing of lockdown measures continues, the NHS has begun to reset. It is more vital than ever that mental health services are not forgotten, but rather included at the forefront of the national response. Now is the time to achieve the parity of esteem that we have committed to achieving for almost a decade.
The burden on services has the potential to be overwhelming for services that were stretched prior to the pandemic. Forecasts from the Centre for Mental Health show at least 500,000 individuals in the UK may experience ill mental health as a result of the pandemic. The CMH has called for mental health equality to be at the heart of government plans for recovery.
The pandemic has demonstrated the power of communities; neighbours have sprung into action and local groups have delivered vital support. Community action can strengthen social cohesion, solidarity and healthy coping, reduce loneliness and promote psychosocial well-being, effectively engaging groups that may otherwise be marginalised. Public Health England have recognised that to maintain momentum, empowering communities is essential, investing in community-centred health and care.
We may not all be in the same boat, but we can navigate this storm together. We should seek to provide universal resources proportionate to a person’s level of relative disadvantage. Let’s not leave anyone behind, whether they have just the one oar, or a super yacht.