Covid-19 will cast five-year shadow over nation’s mental health, warns new Centre for Mental Health analysis

11 May 2021

The Government needs to invest now in extra support for the mental health of people worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, according to an analysis published today by Centre for Mental Health.

In a new model of the longer term impacts of the pandemic on the public’s mental health, the Centre finds that the risks are greatest among those who have been most personally affected by the crisis. This includes people who have lost loved ones to the virus, those who have survived severe illness, and those who have cared for people in the midst of the pandemic.

The model confirms the Centre’s previous forecast that some ten million people in England will need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic, and that the aftermath could last for up to five years.

The model is based on an analysis of over 200 high quality studies from around the world which provide intelligence about the likely effects on people’s mental health. It identifies the groups of people most likely to be affected. They include:

  • The families of people who died during the pandemic
  • People who required hospital care for severe illness
  • The health and care staff who kept them alive, especially those working in hospital intensive care units.

The model also warns that a recession following the pandemic could increase the numbers further if there is widespread and prolonged unemployment.

The number of people needing mental health support in the model is three times higher than the current capacity of mental health services in England. While the NHS is already investing in additional mental health services, at the current rate of expansion it will not keep pace with growing demand.

It is vital now to develop services to meet the specific needs arising from the pandemic – for example specialist bereavement support and evidence-based help for those with trauma symptoms after working or being treated in intensive care.

Report author Nick O’Shea, chief economist at Centre for Mental Health, said: “It is imperative that the Government, the NHS and local councils ready themselves to respond to the aftermath of the pandemic on the public’s mental health. Just as the virus is novel, so too are some of the mental health challenges which emerge.

“Meeting the mental health needs that arise from Covid-19 is not optional. Just as responding to the threat of the virus itself has tested every nation’s resilience and resources, so will addressing the psychological and emotional consequences. There is time to prepare, but the window to do so is limited and we cannot wait and see what happens before making the decision to act decisively.

“The Government’s mental health recovery action plan makes a start but it must now be followed by a clear strategy to put in place services that can offer timely, evidence-based and effective care to people whose lives have been scarred by the events of the last year.”

Download the report here

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