On the Coattails of the Pandemic
We have all read the dire warnings of a mental health emergency following on the coattails of the pandemic. We have seen the surveys and research, including from Mind, evidencing this.
We have increasingly heard from individuals – young and old, famous and everyday – telling of their struggles with mental health through all they are currently experiencing.
As a society we must consider how to reduce the enormous pressures the pandemic brings and plan for how mental health services can respond to the growing demand.
“I don’t want to cause problems as the NHS is already struggling. From prior experience, not much help is available without waiting for months anyway.”
“Being back at home after being at uni for a year is just taking me back to the mind set I was in a year ago. Before I went to uni I struggled with an eating disorder for about 3 years.”
The Mental Health Emergency, Mind, June 2020
An Unequal Burden
The mental health burden does not fall equitably. Those most affected include those vulnerable to Covid-19: BAME communities, older people, the health and care workforce and other key workers.
Then there are parents, those affected by domestic violence, those in insecure work or accommodation who have been catapulted into financial hardship – the list goes on.
People with Pre-Existing Mental Health Problems
Those who already had mental health problems have been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic. In the first lockdown we heard of services cut and people all but abandoned, with others offered online services that they couldn’t make use of. Inevitably people reported rapidly deteriorating mental health. Many –tragically – felt that they shouldn’t reach out for help because their need was not important enough. For many, recovery will now be harder and longer with implications far into the future – affecting career, family life and wellbeing.
Worse provision for those with mental health problems is not an inevitable consequence of the pandemic. There has been welcome additional funding for mental health in recent months, but we were already behind despite the progress of recent years. Much more is needed over the longer term to build truly resilient mental health services to meet future needs.
The Covid Generation of Young People
Even before the pandemic this generation of young people was experiencing high levels of mental health issues, and in particular post-traumatic stress disorder and self-harm. The pandemic has had a further devastating impact on young people’s mental health.
Of course, the practicalities need sorting out first – education, the resources to study from home, certainty about exams and the future, and Covid-safe ways for young people to maintain peer networks. But when it comes to their mental health, disturbing findings emerged from Mind’s research. Over a quarter (28%) didn’t ask for help because they didn’t feel they were deserving of it. But of those that did, many felt uncomfortable accessing remote support - 30% saying technology was a barrier, with privacy being a particular concern.
Funding for children and young people’s mental health services is increasing and each year more receive support. But the starting point for improvement was extremely low, and we know demand will exceed pre-coronavirus expectations. Further investment in young people’s mental health is urgent. With the right early support many young people recover fully and enter adulthood ready to face what the future brings; without it, those futures are less secure.
It may be too late to prevent a mental health crisis; we were too far behind even pre- pandemic. But there is much we still can do if we act fast.
As a society, we must commit to ensuring everyone has the basics – secure education or employment, a liveable income, a safe home - all fundamental to preserving mental health.
We must tackle the stigma which prevents people seeking support because they don’t feel their mental distress merits attention.
And the taxpayer must be willing to invest in the staff and services, from the NHS, social care, education and the voluntary sector, to ensure no child, no young person, no adult, no older person, is kept waiting for support while their mental health worsens.
Sophie Corlett, Mind
Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021
This article is from the new publication ‘Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021: issues for post-16 education, employment, the world of work and retirement’.
Some of the issues and concerns for mental health discussed existed prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 has caused additional pressures on young people and adults.
The authors make specific recommendations to support apprentices and students at colleges, university and in adult learning, as well as people in and out of work.
The important role of education, lifelong learning and good work in promoting mental wellbeing and reducing mental health problems is also addressed.
Published by the Campaign for Learning, it brings together sixteen specialists from mental health and post-16 education and employment to set out what needs to be done to prevent or limit a mental health crisis in 2021.