The global Covid-19 pandemic is likely to increase the number of people in Britain experiencing a mental health problem in the next two years, according to an analysis published today by Centre for Mental Health.
Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health: Forecasting needs and risks in the UK is the first assessment by Centre for Mental Health of the likely impacts of the virus on mental health. It uses evidence from previous epidemics internationally and from the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis to estimate what effect Covid-19 will have on mental health at population level in the UK.
If the recession that follows the economic effects of the virus is similar to 2008, about half a million more people will experience a mental health difficulty over the next year, according to an estimate by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. But if there is a second wave of Covid-19 and the economy is damaged further, the effects on mental health will be greater still, and last much longer.
The briefing also looks at specific groups of people whose mental health will be put at risk as a result of the virus and the lockdown. These include people who have sadly been bereaved at this time, those who have received intensive hospital treatment for the virus, and staff working in health and care services. Many people who have been through these experiences will experience serious grief and trauma symptoms over a long period of time.
The briefing also notes that some groups of people face an especially high risk to their mental health. They include people facing violence and abuse, people with long-term health conditions, and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. People with existing mental health difficulties also face significant risks that their health will worsen at this time.
Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health: Forecasting needs and risks in the UK is the first of a series of forecasts about the mental health impacts of the virus. It will be updated as more evidence comes to light and the situation develops.
It makes four recommendations for actions that are needed now to protect the nation’s mental health at this stage of the crisis. They are:
- The Government should ensure that it continues to provide a financial safety net for people whose livelihoods are affected by the pandemic to prevent further financial insecurity and the serious effects this has on people’s mental health.
- The Government and Public Health England should provide advice and support to organisations, including schools, health and care services and businesses, in trauma-informed approaches to help them to create a sense of psychological safety for people who use and work in them following the lockdown.
- The NHS should develop a proactive and tailored offer of mental health support to people who have received hospital treatment for Covid-19, to people who are working in health and care services with people with Covid-19, and to people who have experienced a bereavement during this time, whether from the virus or other causes.
- The NHS should prepare for both a V-shaped and a W-shaped recession during the next five years, with resources (financial and human) to respond either to a single, deep recession this year or to a series of economic shocks each of which will create additional need for mental health support.
Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “Covid-19 is a health emergency like nothing else in living memory. It has already been widely recognised that the pandemic will have major effects on mental as well as physical health. The evidence we have reviewed shows that this must be taken seriously. We need to be prepared for a rise in the number of people experiencing poor mental health, both short-term and potentially for some time to come.
“The evidence also sadly tells us that the people most at risk of poor mental health now are those with the most precarious livelihoods, poorest health and insecure lies in the first place. It is already clear that the pandemic itself is exacerbating health inequalities in the UK and globally. The mental health after-effects will most likely add yet more burden to those with the least resources, least power and poorest health. So we need to act now to protect those with the greatest risks, reaching out to people who are likely to need the most support for their mental health.
“All of us are finding life more stressful and anxious at this time. Many of us are experiencing the natural responses to a major threat. Most people’s mental health will recover quickly when things improve. But for a significant number, the effects of the pandemic on their mental health will be serious and long-lasting. We will continue to scan the evidence as it emerges to build an understanding of the mental health impacts of Covid-19 and how best to prevent problems whenever possible and respond well whenever necessary.”