Mental health and lockdown: the implications

Mental health is being forced under the microscope at the moment, with the effects of the national lockdown and current Tier system beginning to be felt.

The social restrictions imposed on everyone led to many struggling with their mental health.

A study by the University of Glasgow found that the first six weeks of lockdown had a “major impact” on people’s mental health. Most affected were young people, women, individuals from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and people with pre-existing mental health problems.

The study looked at three ‘waves’ of lockdown, between 31 March and 11 May. It found that more than one-quarter (26.1%) of respondents reported experiencing at least moderate levels of depressive symptoms across all waves.

Access to support

The NHS in England has tried to adapt to the situation by offering extra support to those with poor mental health, such as virtual appointments. Additional funding has also been provided to mental health charities.

But during lockdown, with the restrictions came closures to services and a lack of access to support systems for those who suffered with mental health problems. Many psychiatric professionals acknowledge that mental health has been side-lined while the country focused on physical health.

During a fortnight in April this year, according to mental health charity Mind, almost one quarter of people who attempted to access mental health services were unable to get any help.

In May, the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported that 43% of mental health doctors saw a rise in their urgent and emergency case load. But at the same time, 45% saw a drop in the number of routine appointments they had.

This led to fears that people were staying away from accessing mental health support until they reached crisis point. As a result, there were large increases in the demand for this support when lockdown measures eased – and experts are predicting that this rise in demand will continue for many months to come.

This then puts pressure on an already stretched system in the UK, which could lead to problems for both individuals suffering with poor mental health and the services themselves.

The future

The country’s health system is poised for a hugely busy winter. Adding huge demands for mental health support could have an immense impact on the entire NHS, as well as private facilities.

Mental health can have a significant impact on physical health. When the population is focused on staying healthy to protect against Covid-19, it’s important that the appropriate emphasis is placed on people’s mental health.

How the UK population’s mental health recovers from the effects of Covid-19 and its resulting restrictions remains to be seen. But the University of Glasgow’s Professor Rory O’Conner is hopeful that research like his team’s will prove useful – both during this pandemic and in the future.

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