Between the headlines: making sense of the evidence about mental health and Covid-19

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30 April 2020

By Andy Bell

Last week at Centre for Mental Health we set out our plans for supporting mental health and tackling inequalities during Covid-19. One of the most important elements of our work is to bring together people and research around our mental health at this critical time and the near future.

Both the coronavirus illness itself and the measures governments have had to take to contain it are placing enormous stress on people’s emotional health and wellbeing internationally.

For people across the UK, Europe and globally whose lives are restricted by self-isolation or social distancing, who face daily fears about the virus itself, about shortages of essential supplies and worries about money, the emotional and psychological effects can be overwhelming. For those already living with mental health difficulties, the added pressures of the current situation, combined with limits to the capacity of health and care services to provide ongoing support, may have profound short and long-term impacts.

Thanks to the greater openness about mental health that has been so hard won over the last decade, there is a growing awareness and concern about the psychological effects of the crisis.

These challenges have not gone unnoticed. Thanks to the greater openness about mental health that has been so hard won over the last decade, there is a growing awareness and concern about the psychological effects of the crisis. As a result, governments, charities, research funders and universities, and many more have taken steps to understand, quantify and respond to the mental health challenges that are to come. Perhaps inevitably in such a situation, there is very little coordination of effort across the piece, and we are likely to get evidence of many kinds from all directions in the weeks and months to come. While this will give us valuable insights and important information, it can also make it difficult to process and to understand what’s happening between the headlines.

From national governments to local councils and health care commissioners and providers, decisions will need to be made every day that will have profound effects on people’s mental as well as physical health. Decisions about how mental health support is provided, not just in the NHS but in schools, workplaces and elsewhere, will need to be made. Decisions about how to address fears of a major recession and support those experiencing the worst economic impacts will have to be taken. And at the local level, the ways the virus is managed longer term will have lasting effects on people’s mental health.

We will be sifting through the evidence to help make sense of what we are seeing in terms of the mental health impacts of the pandemic and their implications for policy and practice.

Throughout this year, we will be sifting through the evidence to help make sense of what we are seeing in terms of the mental health impacts of the pandemic and their implications for policy and practice. We will collect and collate evidence as it appears, where necessary translating complex information into practical advice and intelligence. We will monitor not just academic research but surveys and narrative evidence from experience in order to bring understanding and highlight the most serious concerns and biggest opportunities to make change for the better. And we will build a community of practice, bringing together people working for better mental health in the wake of the pandemic to share learning and support positive change.

Covid-19 presents a unique and significant challenge to everyone’s mental health. But it also presents an important opportunity to learn and reflect; to take action on inequalities that have undermined people’s mental health for many years; and to find new ways of working that bring evidence into policy and practice. We will do our bit in helping to make that happen and, in the long-term at least, secure better mental health for all.  

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Let’s get better mental health support for all

The coronavirus pandemic is a physical health emergency on a global scale, such as we have never seen in our lifetimes. But it is also a mental health emergency.

We are taking action to help those at the frontline of this mental health crisis.

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