Pandemic mental health crisis ‘needs tackling swiftly’

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Swift action to address the mental health crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic has been urged, after official figures revealed almost one in five adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression.

According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week, 19.2% of adults were estimated to be experiencing feelings of depression in June 2020, compared with 9.7% before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020).

Eighty-five per cent of those experiencing some form of depression felt their wellbeing was being affected by feelings of stress or anxiety.

The figures indicate that the pandemic had taken an “incredible toll” on the wellbeing of the UK public, said Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network at the NHS Confederation, a body that represents employers that provide NHS services.

“Our members are already preparing to meet increased demand for services as a result of the pandemic, and studies like this help to quantify how much additional demand there will be,” said Duggan. “They are working hard to resume services like Improving Access to Psychological Therapies and to increase digital access, but there are concerns that the current financial provision for mental health, which was agreed pre-pandemic, will not be enough to meet demand.”

One in eight developed “moderate to severe” symptoms of depression during the pandemic – 6.2% of whom continued to experience depressive symptoms at this severity in June.

A survey by recruitment firm Robert Walters earlier this month found that nearly half of managers thought their employees were at risk of burnout, while a third of employees said their mental health had suffered because they had been working longer hours during the pandemic.

According to the ONS, those most likely to experience some form of depression during the period included people aged 16 to 39 years old; women; those unable to afford an unexpected expense; and people with disabilities.

Duggan said the impact of poor mental health during Covid-19 had affected employment, housing, finances and personal relationships.

“If social issues become more deeply rooted for a large section of the population, there is a risk that low level mental health needs will become more serious and require more specialist care,” he said. “A cross-government approach taking into account the wider impact of policies on people’s mental health is essential.”

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