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Mental Health Emergency: Experts warn the fallout will last for years

As part of our new campaign, Joe Shute spoke to two specialists who fear for a 'rising tide' of people whose lives will be defined by Covid.

Article originally published by The Telegraph. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

As part of our new campaign, Joe Shute spoke to two specialists who fear for a ‘rising tide’ of people whose lives will be defined by Covid

When we are at war, says Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it is not the bombs and bullets, but the mental health fallout that is felt through subsequent generations. And so it is with pandemics.

When the dust has settled, infection rates lowered and the acute situation in our hospitals and care homes brought back under control, there will be another looming crisis to comprehend. “The casualties, as always, will be those whose situation has been made worse,” he says. The young, the marginalised, the financially precarious, the isolated and the bereaved – all of whom now stand to have their lives defined by Covid-19.

There are any number of statistics to show what a catastrophe for the nation’s mental health coronavirus has been, but Prof Wessely highlights two recent studies to show precisely what we are up against.

According to the Office for National Statistics, rates of depression in adults have doubled during the pandemic to one in five people. An NHS study released last autumn, meanwhile, found one in six children were now experiencing mental issues such as anxiety, depression and loneliness (up from one in nine, the last time the study was conducted in 2017).

“There was never any doubt lockdown would have a mental health impact,” he says. “The reason is simply the nature of a pandemic. It creates a massive threat but also impedes the way we cope. Social distancing is a very bad thing for mental health – particularly if you already have problems.”

He has no truck with those who wish to prolong social distancing measures ad infinitum until Covid-19 is fully eradicated. Instead, he says, at the earliest possible opportunity, there must be urgent action to address the looming mental health crisis.

“At the moment we can hide behind the fact we have to save lives,” he says. “Once death rates and hospitalisations are down, we have to really start thinking about the mental health costs.”

In particular he is worried about the young. “We have taken away a whole year of students’ lives,” he says. “For many of us those are the times that defined our futures.”

On Wednesday the Government will publish proposed reforms to the Mental Health Act based on the recommendations made by Prof Wessely’s Independent Review in 2018. He welcomes the reforms, which include improving access to community-based mental health support.

While the Government has pledged an extra £2 billion a year to mental health services from 2023, campaigners argue more is needed and sooner. The charity, Mind, has warned of a second mental health pandemic brewing, with NHS data showing a “huge increase in urgent and emergency referrals for crisis care”.

Its chief executive, Paul Farmer, says the charity has also seen a massive uplift in demand with a coronavirus information hub on its website being viewed more than 1.7 million times during the pandemic.

Keeping face-to-face services open during the current lockdown, even if the regulations are further tightened, is vital – last year, some were discontinued during the first lockdown. Farmer says extra investment in mental health is also going to be required, pointing out that the £2 billion already pledged by the Government was based on pre-pandemic data.

Echoing Prof Wessely, Farmer also remains “hugely concerned” about those left in a precarious financial position through Covid-19 and has called on the Government to maintain financial support through alternative measures when other emergency policies such as the furlough scheme are finished.

The pandemic has seen a shift from a lot of people simply “struggling” to becoming clinically unwell, he adds, warning of a “rising tide of people who haven’t previously experienced mental health problems but are now finding themselves in that position.”

Covid-19 will prove a defining moment for the way in which we discuss and protect our mental health. “There is an awful lot of fragility around,” Farmer says. “And mental health has to be right at the heart of the recovery.”


This article was written by Senior Feature Writer and Joe Shute from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

Article originally published by The Telegraph. Hargreaves Lansdown is not responsible for its content or accuracy and may not share the author's views. News and research are not personal recommendations to deal. All investments can fall in value so you could get back less than you invest.

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