As COVID-19 restrictions are eased in some parts of the world, restrictions in localised areas or some countries are being re-imposed or tightened as cases rise. Uncertainty and fear can be difficult to manage, especially combined with isolation from our friends, family and disruption to our usual routines.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been tracking people’s concerns about their wellbeing since the start of the pandemic. Latest figures from mid-July show almost half of adults considered that their wellbeing had been affected by the pandemic, and nearly 7 in 10 said they were feeling stressed or anxious. These levels have remained broadly the same since April, though there are some indicators of improvement.

This does not necessarily mean a person has a mental illness that needs treatment. Feeling stressed and anxious is a normal response to uncertain times when people are worried about their jobs, health and future plans. What is important is that people discuss their feelings with others, such as family or friends, or contact support services or seek medical advice if there is more concern.

 

Where did the story come from?

The Times ran an article about the possible effects of the pandemic on mental health, warning about a ‘tsunami’ of mental illness. The article was partly based on a survey of members carried out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych).

 

What is the basis for the claim?

The RCPsych survey had responses from 1,369 psychiatrists (about a 10% response rate) in early May about changes in their work patterns following the COVID-19 lockdown.

Some 42% of psychiatrists said they had seen an increase in urgent referrals to see people with severe mental health problems, while 45% had seen more routine appointments fall. Psychiatrists are concerned that only the most severe cases of illness were being treated and those with milder mental health problems were not getting treatment. People are thought to be ‘staying away from mental health services until they reach a crisis point’ which could lead to a surge in cases after the COVID-19 peak has passed.

The ONS report has tracked wellbeing and mood in a sample of adults in the UK population since March. In the week of 8-12 July 2020, 45% of people said the pandemic is affecting their wellbeing, and this proportion has remained about the same since April. Two-thirds said they were stressed and anxious, and the same proportion said they were worried about their future. Around a third said the pandemic had made their mental health worse, and a third said they were spending too much time alone or felt lonely.

As The Health Foundation says, factors such as poverty, insecure work or unemployment, and living in poor housing are all associated with poor mental health. They say that ‘good mental health is an important asset in its own right,’ and highlight the need to address inequalities and invest in mental health now to prevent mental and physical health problems in the future.

 

What do trusted sources say?

The Mental Health Foundation has some useful information to help people look after their mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak. These include tips on how to manage fear and anxiety as we return to the workplace, shops and social events.

They say: “There has been a lot of talk of a ‘new normal’ – but normal is changing and uncertainty, and managing risk, is going to be the reality for the foreseeable future. This is not something that’s comfortable for many of us, particularly when we’re only just about coping with our mental health.”

It advises focusing on the present rather than worrying about what might happen in the future, taking opportunities to relax where possible, and talking to people you trust about how you feel.

Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser

Citation

  1. Royal College of Psychiatrists, Psychiatrists see alarming rise in patients needing urgent and emergency care and forecast a ‘tsunami’ of mental illness. https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/news-and-features/latest-news/detail/2020/05/15/psychiatrists-see-alarming-rise-in-patients-needing-urgent-and-emergency-care (Accessed 29 July 2020).
  2. Office for National Statistics. Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 17 July 2020. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/17july2020#indicators-of-well-being (Accessed 29 July 2020).

 

Reading list

  1. Mental Health Foundation. Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak (Accessed 29 July 2020).