According to the UK’s leading psychiatrist, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed the “greatest threat to mental health since the second world war,” with its impact to reverberate years after the crisis ends.
President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr. Adrian James, says a combo of the disease itself, its economic implications, and social consequences is ravaging the mental health of nearly 10 million people (including 1.5 million children). These individuals need either new or additional help and psychiatric attention as a direct result of the coronavirus.
Initially, the demand for mental health services appeared to decline as people steered clear of hospitals and doctor’s offices at the start of the pandemic. But this was followed up by a huge spike in people looking for mental health attention, and there are no signs of it slowing down any time soon.
“This is going to have a profound effect on mental health,” said Dr. James. “It is probably the biggest hit to mental health since the second world war. It doesn’t stop when the virus is under control and there are few people in hospital. You’ve got to fund the long-term consequences.”
The 1.5 million children facing anxiety and depression caused by social isolation or the hospitalization or death of a family member is of particular concern. It’s a crisis unlike anything this generation’s youth has faced.
These numbers may continue to soar as the “full impact becomes clear on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities,” as well as those with disabilities and in care homes.
Many have used the scary mental health statistics to argue against lockdowns. Dr. James holds that “mental health grounds for controlling the virus should not be ignored.”
On top of the fear of getting the virus or having loved ones exposed acting as traumatizing triggers, nearly 20% of those who received mechanical ventilation during the spring developed PTSD.
Still others are coping with a state of “complex grief” after losing a loved one without being able to give a proper goodbye in-person.
People fretting over uncertainty about jobs, housing, and overall economic hardship will only add to the long-term effects of this pandemic.
Dr. James asserts that mental health services will need to be “beefed up,” so they are more accessible to those in need.
Even after the vaccine has been rolled out in its entirety and COVID-19 recedes, many are still going to need aid restoring social support networks and regaining some sense of normalcy. It will be a while before we can go back to the world as we once knew it.
“It’s very easy to think that when it’s safe to do so, we’ll all be out and about again straight away, but I think it’s going to take a while to get people used to that. The people most likely to suffer are older adults who have got used to self-isolating,” said James, adding, “We’ll need to support the voluntary sector, the charities, that help them get out of the house to socialize and engage in meaningful activities.”