There is an increasing weight of evidence showing that covid-19 and the response to the pandemic—however necessary to contain and slow the spread of the virus—is having a significant impact on and leading to a growing epidemic in mental ill health. As we are forced to contend with the fear, stress and worry of contagion for ourselves and our loved ones, these feelings are compounded by anxieties about the monumental changes to everyday life.
Working from home, shielding, furlough, self-isolation, home schooling, face coverings, and a lack of physical contact with family and friends have become the new normal. Faced with these new realities and a growing sense of uncertainty, we are already beginning to see the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health. Social isolation, loneliness, bereavement, health anxieties, loss of income and jobs, poor or unaffordable housing, a lack of access to outdoor space, and working in frontline services are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly increased the drivers of worsening mental health, but at the same time it has reduced access to and interrupted the provision of essential mental health services, just when they are needed most. To compound the problem further, the pandemic has diminished many of the coping mechanisms that people typically use to deal with stress, worry and anxiety, such as meeting up with family and friends, exercising or going out to work. As a result, there is a real fear that we are building up considerable mental health problems for the future, and could see a wave of acute and untreated mental illness after the pandemic.
To avert a mental health crisis, we must ensure that mental health needs are treated as a central component of our response to and recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. We need to increase significantly investment and capacity in services during the pandemic and beyond, to ensure that all people living with mental ill health have continued access to treatment to prevent their conditions from worsening and becoming more acute. In Coventry, there are some excellent community groups delivering tailored local support to tackle these growing problems. I recently visited one such group, the Mote House Community Trust. I saw the fantastic work that it is doing in conjunction with our health services to combat loneliness, and deliver positive health and wellbeing outcomes.
From tomorrow, at just past midnight, Coventry is due to move to tier 2 of the local covid alert system. Although there was a sad inevitability about this decision, given the rising number of coronavirus cases in the city, the new tighter restrictions such as those imposed on other towns and cities in tiers 2 and 3 will simply add fuel to the fire of the mental health epidemic, unless we can ensure that the right support is in place. I sincerely hope that Ministers will confirm that mental health services and social prescribing schemes will be given the requisite support to tackle the growing mental health epidemic before we reach crisis point. After all, failing to recognise the importance of good mental health and invest appropriately in services now risks storing up significant mental health and physical wellbeing problems for the future. That would come at an unacceptable human, social and economic cost.