Lockdown has been devastating for mental health and the worst could be yet to come, a leading charity has said.
The mental health charity Mind says a survey has revealed that lockdown has had a dramatic impact on the nation’s mental health, warning that unless action is taken now, the problem could grow.
“Overall there has been a deterioration in people’s mental health, regardless of whether they had the mental health problem before [lockdown],” said Megan Pennell, the parliamentary and campaigns manager at Mind.
The charity said the government must take urgent action not just to address immediate need but to invest in services and put safety nets in place for the future, noting stressors including unemployment and housing problems were set to worsen.
“It is [about] preventing an even bigger crisis coming later on,” Pennell told the Guardian, adding that such preparations would also help in the case of a second wave of Covid-19.
The survey, conducted by Mind, gathered responses from more than 16,000 participants. While participants were not selected at random but recruited through channels including social media – potentially meaning those with poor mental health were more likely to get in touch – Pennell said the results showed many people had been affected by lockdown.
Overall, 65% of adult participants with a pre-existing mental health problem said it had become worse during lockdown, with the figure was higher, at 75%, among people aged 13-24 with pre-existing mental health problems. What’s more, 22% of participants above the age of 13 without prior experience of mental health problems said that their mental health during lockdown was poor or very poor.
Among other results, the report showed lockdown had taken a greater toll on women’s mental health than men’s, while those whose employment status changed, for example through furlough or unemployment, were more affected than those who did not experience such a change.
The survey suggested drivers of poorer mental health during the pandemic included not being able to see family, loneliness, not being able to go outside, concerns about the virus itself, and boredom.
But it also suggested there had been a lack of contact with mental health services.
That, said Pennell, was down to both individuals being reluctant to contact services during the crisis, and a lack of availability: the team said 25% of all respondents who tried to access NHS mental health services had been unable to get support.
Previous work has also flagged a mental health crisis, with the centre for mental health predicting about 500,000 more people in the UK will need mental health support as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mind has called for the UK government to take five key actions, from investing in community services to reforming the Mental Health Act, supporting children and young people, dealing with inequalities experienced by BAME people and ensuring the benefits system offers a financial safety net to those in need.
“What we really want to emphasise is that as well as this being a physical health crisis, it is just as much a mental health emergency,” said Pennell.
Should such actions not be taken, said Pennell, the situation could be dire. “If we don’t invest now, we will have a much bigger challenge on our hands,” she said, adding that some groups, including frontline workers, are at particular risk of their mental health deteriorating.
Matthew Hotopf, a professor of general hospital psychiatry at King’s College London, welcomed the report, saying other emerging data also suggested the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on mental health had been significant, in particular on women, young people and people with school-age children.
“This whole pandemic has absolutely magnified inequalities,” he said, adding that those in crowded accommodation had had worse experiences than those in more spacious settings.
Hotopf said he supported the five actions called for by the charity, adding that research was needed into the impact of school closures on children, and the effects on patient care of changes to mental health services during the pandemic, including remote support.
“Mental health hasn’t had a great deal of attention in the light of all of this,” he said.