There’s little doubt that the global pandemic will have an effect on mental health in the UK. Maybe for years to come. Many of us could now be at an increased risk of developing problems. Whether you’ve been hospitalised with Covid-19, have lost someone to the virus, been shielding for months on end, or you’re a healthcare worker, your mental health could suffer as a result. It’s not easy to predict just how many people will be affected, or in what ways, but the research suggests the figures will be significant. Looking at relevant past events and current trends can help us understand the potential scope and show us who is most at risk.
Being a Covid patient or healthcare worker
We have never seen a pandemic on the scale of Covid-19, but previous epidemics – such as SARS-CoV and Ebola virus – show there is always a mental heath impact for the communities affected. Rates of anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic fatigue, and sleep deprivation go up, with survivors – and those who cared for them – often suffering for years afterwards.1,2,3
With many Covid patients ending up in intensive care, we’re likely to see more trauma brought on by invasive hospital treatment. Research shows around 20% of intensive care survivors routinely experience PTSD.4
While those on the frontline delivering health and care services during the pandemic are at a high risk of developing anxiety and depression.5 It’s a stressful job anyway, but one Canadian study looking at healthcare workers during a SARS-CoV breakout, showed that ‘significant distress’ was 50% higher in those who worked with SARS-CoV patients than those that didn’t. They also suffered significantly more PTSD and burnout, with effects continuing for up to two years. 5
Losing a loved one
In the face of bereavement, we know that some people respond in a more complex way than the ‘normal’ mourning process. The figure is usually around 7%5 of people whose grief will last longer and be more severe, which may mean they require some mental health support. This figure could well be higher this year, given the additional stresses of various restrictions imposed during the pandemic. Not being able to visit your loved in their care home or hospital to say goodbye; not being able to go to the funeral or having fewer of your support network there. All of this could tip you into a grieving process you’re unable to cope with.
Keeping your distance
Protracted isolation will have affected some people more than others. For many of us the anxiety, low mood, and bouts of insomnia will pass. For others it won’t be so easy. We know that social distancing and lockdown measures may have put those at risk of domestic violence or child abuse in greater danger. And that suffering abuse can go on to cause eating disorders, depression, suicide and other mental health issues.6
Those with serious, ongoing health issues are already at greater risk from Covid and are having to shield for longer, while the rest of us begin to return to ‘normal life’. In itself this could cause additional stress. We also know that people with physical ill health are more likely to have mental health problems. Around 30% of people in the UK who have a long-term condition also have a mental health problem.7 For example, if you have diabetes, you’re two to three times more likely to experience depression than others. 7
Losing your income
What happens to the UK and global economy post-Covid has a huge role to play. Studies on the mental health fall-out of the 2008 recession suggests the economic impact alone could trigger problems for half a million people, if the pandemic causes a similar crash.8
The prospects look bleak. According to the International Labour Organisation, the pandemic could lead to as many as half the world’s workers losing their jobs9. Unemployment, reduced income, housing issues – all are known causes of mental distress10. To compound the issue, high levels of government debt means there will be less funding available for mental health services.
You’re more likely to experience mental ill health as a result of Covid 19 if you’re poor, unemployed, from an ethnic minority background, or if you have an existing physical or mental health condition. In other words: the very people who already have little or no access to mental healthcare will be the ones most in need of it.
Even now, if you need support, your choices are limited. You can wait for an NHS counsellor or psychologist to become available or pay for expensive private therapy (which, of course, may not be a option). Post-Covid, there’s likely to be increased demand, as well as fewer services on offer. So what can you do?
Innovative mobile phone apps, like AIME, can plug the gap, providing vital access to mental health support. Whether used in place of, or alongside, traditional therapy sessions, wellbeing apps can help people manage anxiety and overcome depression and other issues, using a range of tools, listening and advice.
The AIME app gives you free, instant access to proven strategies that help you cope day-to-day and improve your emotional wellbeing. Offering personalised and holistic advice, AIME is here for you whenever you need to talk. It will also point you in the right direction if you need extra support. All guidance is backed by evidence-based science and led by professional CBT therapists.
1 Keita M, Taverne B, Savané C, March L, Doukoure M, Saliou Sow M, Touré A, Etard J , Barry M, Delaporte E and the PostEboGui Study Group (2017) 8 Depressive symptoms among survivors of Ebola virus disease in Conakry (Guinea): preliminary results of the PostEboGui cohort. BMC Psychiatry
2 Lee A, Wo McAlonan G, Cheung V, Cheung C, Sham P, Chu C, Wong P, Tsang K & Chua S (2007) Stress and psychological distress among SARS survivors 1 year after the outbreak. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
3 Mak I, Chu C, Pan P, Yiu M & Chan V (2009) Long-term psychiatric morbidities among SARS survivors. General Hospital Psychiatry.
4 Righy C, Rosa R, Amancio da Silva R, Kochhann R, Migliavaca C, Robinson C , Teche S, Teixeira C , Bozza F & Falavigna M (2019) Prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in adult critical care survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical Care.
5 Durcan, O’Shea & Allwood. Covid 19 and the nation’s mental health. Forecasting needs and risks in the UK, May 2020. Centre for Mental Health
6 Douglas P, Douglas D, Harrigan D & Douglas K (2009) Preparing for Pandemic Influenza and its Aftermath: Mental Health Issues Considered. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health
7 Naylor, C. et al. (2012) Long-term conditions and mental health: the cost of co-morbidities. The King’s Fund and Centre for Mental Health
8 Bank J, Karjalainen H & Propper C (2020) IFS Briefing Note BN281 Recessions and health: The long-term health consequences of responses to coronavirus. London. Institute of Fiscal Studies
9 International Labour Organisation (n.d) As job losses escalate, nearly half of global workforce at risk of losing livelihoods.
10 World Health Organisation (2007) Impact of Economic Crises on Mental Health.