The NHS needs to prepare now to respond to a rising tide of mental health difficulties as a result of Covid-19 this winter, according to the latest forecast by Centre for Mental Health.
The second Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health briefing warns that the combination of a possible rise in Covid-19 cases combined with seasonal flu, the absence of financial safety nets such as the furlough scheme, and a no-deal Brexit may affect the whole UK economy and have a major knock-on effect on mental health.
The briefing reviews international evidence and explores the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of children and young people, on the economy, and on those hit hardest by the pandemic. It finds that Covid-19 is increasing levels of psychological distress around the world. The mental health impacts are greatest among those most closely affected. This includes people living in areas where there are local outbreaks of the virus and people with long-term physical or mental health conditions.
The briefing identifies priorities for preventing mental health difficulties where possible and for supporting people whose mental health has been most severely affected. It finds that groups at highest risk include children returning to school in September, many of them having experienced traumatic losses since March, and young adults facing an uncertain future and the long-term ‘scarring’ effects on their mental health of youth unemployment. It says steps must be taken to protect these groups and reduce the risk of harm that could last a lifetime.
The briefing also calls for targeted investment in mental health support for the families of people treated in hospital for Covid-19, as well as those who received treatment for the virus. It calls for greater attention to the mental health of pregnant women and people with long-term physical, neurological and mental health conditions. The impact of long periods of confinement among prisoners during the pandemic also requires urgent attention, with steps taken now to reduce the prison population in anticipation of future waves of the virus.
Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “It is clear that the nation’s mental health has taken a sharp knock this year. Decisions made now will have a major effect on how serious and how long-lasting the damage will be over the months and years to come.
“If there is a further wave of Covid-19 this winter, combined with seasonal flu, a no-deal Brexit and fewer safety nets for the economy, the effects on mental health could be serious. We risk a rising tide of psychological distress as more and more people’s lives get caught up in the after-effects of the pandemic.
“We need to plan now to prevent mental health difficulties wherever possible and to reach out to people who need support before they reach a crisis. That means supporting schools over the summer to create safe spaces for children and staff to return to in September. It means investing in local councils and in community organisations that often meet the needs of the most marginalised people better than mainstream mental health services. And it means offering tailored support to those who have lost the most during the pandemic, not leaving it to chance whether they get the help they need or not.”