Government warned of ‘hidden mental health crisis’ as depression doubles amid coronavirus pandemic
Young adults, women and people with disabilities were among those most likely to experience depression during the Covid-19 crisis.
Ministers have been warned of a “hidden mental health crisis” as new figures revealed the number of UK adults experiencing depression has doubled during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mental health charity Mind said it was worried the end of a string of Covid-19 support schemes in the coming months could make the problem worse as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed a sharp rise in people struggling.
An ONS survey shows as of June this year almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the pandemic.
That was almost double the 9.7% recorded in the period beforehand, covering July 2019 to March 2020.
Meanwhile one in eight adults (12.9%) developed “moderate to severe” depressive symptoms during the pandemic, according to the study, while a further 6.2% continued to experience that level of depression.
Of those experiencing moderate to severe depressive symptoms, 62% said they felt lonely “often or always” — compared with 15% of those who reported no or mild depressive symptoms.
A small number of people (3.5%) reported an improvement in their symptoms during the crisis.
But the ONS’s principal research officer, Tim Vizard, said: “Adults who were young, female, unable to afford an unexpected expense or disabled were the most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic.”
Commenting on the “worrying” findings, Sophie Collett, director of external relations at Mind, said: “We cannot underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health – whether that’s bereavement, the devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, or the recession we are now in.”
"I would urge anyone concerned about their mental health to come forward for help – the NHS is here for you" - Claire Murdoch, NHS in England
Calling on ministers to ensure “well-resourced timely treatment” is available “for anyone who needs it", Ms Collett added: “Now many emergency measures introduced by Government - such as furlough, emergency housing, and better Statutory Sick Pay – have stopped or are winding down, we’re concerned even more people will fall through the gaps.”
Mind has called on the Government to do more to invest in community mental health services and has said it is “crucial that mental health and wellbeing are put at the centre of the UK Government’s ongoing recovery plans”.
Opposition parties meanwhile implored the Government to act in response to the findings.
“There’s a hidden mental health crisis taking place behind closed doors,” Labour’s shadow mental health minister Rosena Allin-Khan said.
She added: “The Government has been ignoring the nation’s mental health – they must start working with experts.
“The Government has no plan to combat loneliness and their incompetence with test and trace means that people aren't being reassured about the safety of going out.
“This lack of action is creating a perfect storm of mental ill health.”
And Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson, whose party is calling for a cross-government mental health plan for people affected by the pandemic, said: “We have all seen the toll lockdown has taken.
"The scale and seriousness of the rise in depression over the last few months is extremely worrying.”
Ms Wilson added: “Whilst we can hope to get a grip on COVID-19 in the coming months, the mental health impacts will last a lifetime.
"We must ensure no-one slips through the net as the scale of the mental health impact of this crisis emerges.”
'LIVES UPSIDE DOWN'
The NHS is urging those struggling with their mental health to seek support if they “feel unable to cope or keep yourself safe”, with services remaining open during the pandemic.
Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS in England, said: “The pandemic has turned lives upside down and for some people it will have put greater strain on their mental health, and while some people will have had understandable concerns about seeking help during lockdown, NHS services have been available for those who need them.
“The NHS will continue to maximise support on offer, including through online and telephone advice and the establishment of 24/7 crisis services, so I would urge anyone concerned about their mental health to come forward for help – the NHS is here for you.”