(20 Jan 2021) LEAD IN:
More than a year after the new coronavirus first emerged and started to wreak havoc across the world, there is still no end in sight to the pandemic.
Lockdowns, travel restrictions and ever-climbing death tolls are having a lasting impact on mental health.
London’s usually bustling city centre is eerily empty.
The UK in in the midst of its third lockdown and the public are under orders only to leave their homes if absolutely essential.
Like much of the world, the country has endured close to a year of restrictions, lockdowns and new rules in an attempt to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
And experts say the pandemic is taking a toll not just on physical health, but mental health too.
“What we’re certainly seeing at this stage is that each time there is a further wave of the virus, each time there are more restrictions, the mental health needs in the population go up. But whereas the virus comes down after each wave, the mental health impacts don’t, they accumulate,” says Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive of the charity Centre for Mental Health.
Centre for Mental Health works in research, economic analysis and political lobbying around mental health issues.
It has produced reports during the pandemic on who has been most affected.
Bell says certain groups face a bigger hit to their mental health than others.
“Nobody’s immune to this, everyone is experiencing the psychological effects. It is a collective trauma, if you like, this happening to all of us. But certainly we see a number of groups of people that are particularly affected,” says Bell.
“I think particularly those living on low incomes, where, of course, you’ve got more risk to the economic effects of the virus. We certainly see it in the UK, amongst people from racialized communities, Black and Asian communities in particular, where you have a greater risk from the virus. So, of course, you therefore have a greater risk to mental health.”
The Centre for Mental Health also highlights children and young adults as being at risk, as they have had their education disrupted, or are more likely to be working in lower paid jobs early in their working lives.
Medical staff are also feeling the pressure.
In the UK, some hospitals reached capacity as COVID-19 patients took up beds, with some declaring an emergency due to an acute shortage of resources.
Researchers from King’s College London have been studying how UK health care workers are coping – and their findings are worrying.
“What we know is for people in that sector that has been a distinct rise in the reported symptoms,” says Professor Neil Greenberg, consultant occupational and forensic psychiatrist.
“Amongst intensive care staff at the end of the first wave, so that’s in June and July last year, that actually nearly one in two of them were reporting some level of either post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression or anxiety or problem drinking.”
There is better news for people who were already suffering from mental health problems prior to the pandemic.
They appear to be more resilient than expected.
“They, too, have obviously suffered, the whole nation has, but they haven’t done disproportionately badly. And in fact, they probably seem to have fared slightly better overall than that people who had no mental health problems at all,” explains Greenberg.
He says that a crisis like the pandemic can actually galvanise communities to support each other.
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