The effect of COVID-19 on the UK’s mental health
Hope Parish delves into the reality of mental health in the UK’s coronavirus lockdown and what we can do to support ourselves and others.
Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, a report from the Independent Mental Health Taskforce for the NHS showed that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience mental health issues each year and according to Public Health England, mental ill health is the second-largest cause of burden of disease* in England. Now with an increased amount of strain on mental health, a loss of coping mechanisms, and reduced access to treatment how much has COVID-19 effected the UK’s mental health?
On the 23rd of March 2020, the UK was put into lockdown as cases reached 6030 and 331 deaths. The British public were only allowed to leave their homes for one daily exercise, shopping for essential items, medical needs, providing care for a vulnerable person and travel to work if it was not possible to work from home. In the week following lockdown the Office of National Statistics reported that over 4 in 5 adults (84.2%) were feeling somewhat or very worried about the effects of COVID-19 on their life. Furthermore, 49.6% people in Great Britain aged 16 years and over reported “high” anxiety, this is over 25 million people.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has reported increased numbers of people needing emergency mental health care
Even more concerningly, over half of adults felt that COVID-19 was affecting their wellbeing and a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that mental health on average is 8.1% worse than predicted values for this period. Young women and people with prior mental illness were affected the most. Young Minds, a young people’s mental health charity, found that 80% of young people agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse.
Official statistics on the number of suicides are currently unknown. However, there are many facts that suggest COVID-19 has had a negative impact on suicide rates as calls to the mental health charity SANE’s telephone helpline has increased by 200% since the lockdown began, with 85% of callers new to their help. The Samaritans reported they have had over half a million calls throughout lockdown with 1 in 4 conversations being with someone who is expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviours. Studies have shown that at least 1 in 10 people had experienced thoughts of death or self-harm in the first week of lockdown and that the proportion of people reporting low levels of happiness has almost tripled, partly due to lower than average life satisfaction.
Even as lockdown began to ease, anxiety and depression were reported to have both stayed higher than usual
To add, the NHS providers report that Child and Adolescents Mental Health Services and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies have seen a fall in GP referrals, but an increase in self-referrals of people at crisis point or who have attempted suicide. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has similarly reported increased numbers of people needing emergency mental health care but a reduced number of routine appointments. This is worrying as it suggests people are waiting for help until they are at crisis point.
Part of the issue may be that COVID-19 has prevented many people accessing care. For example, Mind charity reported that of 41% who did not seek help said it was because they did not think their issues were important enough and 22% felt uncomfortable using phone or video call technology. Moreover, of those who had tried to access mental health services over a 2-week period in April almost a quarter were unable to get help. Young minds also reported that 31% of respondents receiving treatment prior to COVID-19 said they were no longer able to access support but still needed it.
Unfortunately, we are still in the middle of a lot of uncertainty and there is real anxiety about a second lockdown
Even as lockdown began to ease at the end of May, when groups of up to six from different households could meet outside, anxiety and depression were reported to have both stayed higher than usual reporting and mental health trusts report that they have seen a spike in the number of people seeking help.
Unfortunately, just over 6 months on we are still in the middle of a lot of uncertainty and there is real anxiety about a second lockdown, so what can you do to help protect your mental health? Staying in touch with friends and family, watching films, reading and exercising are all ways to help protect mental health during this time. Online video chatting software such as Zoom and Facetime, as well as letter writing, and socially distanced chats are key to keep in contact.
Here are some recommendations of activities during stricter COVID measures:
Exercise and wellness Videos
- Free workout plans from Chloe ting – https://www.chloeting.com/program/
- The NHS website with videos ranging from 10- 45 minutes for both aerobic and strength conditioning https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/?tabname=aerobic-exercise
- Sport England’s website contains videos for general fitness, fitness with kids, fitness for pregnant and older people, fitness for those with disabilities as well as yoga and Pilates and mindfulnesshttps://www.sportengland.org/jointhemovement?section=get_active_at_home#freevideocontentandactivities
If you, or someone you know, has been affected by the issues in this piece, here are some details of support available from home:
- Mind- Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
- Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
- Website: www.mind.org.uk
- Samaritans- Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
- Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
- Website: www.samaritans.org.uk
- SANE- Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.
- Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: www.sane.org.uk/textcare
- Website: www.sane.org.uk/support
- The NHS Volunteers Service
- A telephone ‘check in and chat’ for if you have mental health issues and are feeling isolated. Call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm) or visit the website.