Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health: July 2020

17 July 2020

Forecasting needs and risks in the UK

Curtis Sinclair, Nick O’Shea, Louis Allwood and Dr Graham Durcan

Levels of psychological distress and mental ill health are rising internationally in the wake of Covid-19. Our second forecast of the mental health impacts of the pandemic, Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health, warns that a combination of challenging factors may affect the whole UK economy and have a major knock-on effect on mental health.

This follows our first forecast, which indicated that about half a million more people will experience a mental health difficulty over the next year as a result of the pandemic. This second assessment 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.

Covid-19 is increasing levels of psychological distress around the world, and 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 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. 

Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health 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 is calling on the Government and the NHS to take urgent action to prevent mental health difficulties wherever possible and to reach out to people who need support before they reach a crisis.

In addition to the recommendations made in our first forecast, we recommend:

1. Target mental health resources where they are most needed

The NHS needs to prepare for winter by identifying those who are most vulnerable to a pandemic in the winter: the poor, the young and the most deprived geographical areas.

2. Proactively protect the mental health of children and young people

This will require targeted funding for services that are known to work effectively with the groups experiencing the biggest risk factors at this time.

3. A psychologically informed return to school

A safe return to education is about more than just ‘catching up’ on schoolwork and preparing for the next set of exams. There should be a national commitment to encourage and enable all schools to adopt an effective ‘whole school approach’ to mental health.

4. Provide additional mental health support for groups facing further risks

The NHS should plan to offer tailored mental health support to the families of people treated in ICU; to pregnant women and those who have given birth during the pandemic; and to people with long-term physical and neurological conditions

5. Improve safety in the criminal justice system

The Government should take action to reduce the number of people going to prison, investing instead in community sentencing options. Instead of increasing prison places, the Government should focus on modernising the estate and reducing the number of people who are detained.

6. Support young people seeking employment

The Government should prioritise employment programmes that will support young people who are seeking work to reduce the long-term psychological ‘scarring’ of protracted unemployment.

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