Long after the physical consequences of Covid-19 have receded, the mental health impacts will likely remain
Reports of stress, anxiety and depression are rising, and will be further exacerbated by negative economic impacts. We need better mental health support for the general population.
This month, I was honoured to lead my debate in the House of Commons into ‘Mental Health Supports for Frontline Staff’.
I was able to highlight testimony from EveryDoctor and from the Royal College of Nursing highlighting the trauma, grief and anxiety that staff on our frontline (NHS & Social Care settings etc.) have experienced during the pandemic.
They have increasingly lost patients, colleagues and some have also lost family members to this pandemic.
Staff have reported “feelings of helplessness” and now say they see “no end in sight” and are “bracing themselves” for a further harsh winter spike.
Research into the impact, clearly shows that long after the physical consequences of Covid-19 have receded, the mental health impacts will likely remain. A briefing from the Centre for Mental Health has predicted that over 200,000 NHS workers may need treatment for mental health conditions such as post traumatic distress and high psychological distress as a result of the pandemic.
There is also a high likelihood of frontline ‘burnout’ with persistent long hours, shift patterns, lack of time off to spend with family and the emotional consequences taking their toll.
It has never been more crucial to address mental health as part of our Covid-19 response.
Alongside clapping for our Key Workers every week, Government’s fundamentally owe them a ‘duty of care’.
It is essential that they have access to timeous mental health supports, including specialist treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I asked the Minister for the much needed Covid-19 Mental Health Strategy, which must be fully funded with consequential for devolved Governments to fully implement their own.
I have also written to the Prime Minister to ask for a National Memorial to be built in memory of those key-workers who lost their lives putting themselves on the line to protect us from this pandemic. Their sacrifice and that of their families must never be forgotten.
There is also of course, a need for mental health supports for the general population, where reports of stress, anxiety and depression are rising, and will be further exacerbated by negative economic impacts.
I was particularly interested to read a report from Independent Age into the mental health impact of Covid-19 on older adults, a group that is often overlooked.
They surveyed members and reported increased loneliness and social isolation. One member said “I do feel quite down a lot. Sometimes I don’t speak to anybody for over a week and I don’t see anyone. I don’t hear a human voice.” Another stated “If you’re bereaved and living on your own, there’s no reassurance and you’ve only got yourself to rely upon to pull yourself up”.
Three quarters of people surveyed aged 65+ said they had experienced significant anxiety or low mood at least once, with 10% saying they felt this frequently or all the time.
Independent Age recommends that GPs across the UK should be supported to offer people a range of mental health options alongside medication, such as talking therapy, social or community supports.
The NHS must also review the barriers to and the feasibility of increasing the flexibility of GP appointments.
I will continue this important work in parliament, as Chair of the Psychology All Party Group. It has never been more crucial to address mental health as part of our Covid-19 response.