The UK government’s action – or lack of – has undeniably exacerbated the mental health crisis. This mental health crisis will not be rendered invisible any longer.
Covid-19 has devastated our mental health. Feelings of uncertainty, isolation, fear, anxiety, and loneliness heightened as the UK headed into a second national lockdown in early November. As the government fails to control the unprecedented effects of the pandemic, we are forced to ask ourselves, was this seismic mental health crisis inevitable?
Predictions of the long-term impacts of Covid-19 on mental health were clear from the onset. Forcing people to stay in their homes, with socialisation and human relationships temporarily put on hold, the constant fear of job losses as the UK headed into further economic downfall, the pain of grieving lost loved ones, livelihoods shattered, all of which have been further exacerbated for those with pre-existing mental health conditions; this is a time defined by universal struggle.
While no single group has escaped the negative psychological impact of the lockdown measures designed to minimise the viral spread of the Covid-19 virus, mental health has fallen through the cracks yet again in the government’s response to the pandemic. The disproportionate implications of Covid-19 for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities throughout the UK, have been stressed in a previous blog from JAN Trust, worsening the conditions for further mental health struggles.
Yet, the mental health crisis in the UK has ultimately been overlooked by the government. As highlighted in an article from the Guardian, “the Tories’ ideology driven cuts left the country woefully unprepared for the pandemic”, leaving underfunded mental health services paralysed in their efforts to support those who are vulnerable and struggling. Austerity measures have been further defined during the pandemic. In early October, Nadine Dorries, the Minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety, said that the government would pledge an extra £2.3bn of funding into mental health services, a figure which was inadequate to the funding requirement of £2.6bn by the NHS’s five-year plan on national mental health recommended before the pandemic. Priti Patel, the Secretary of State, did not meet with a single mental-health organisation within the first three months of the pandemic, failing to administer guidance or leadership on the issue. The UK government’s action – or lack of – has undeniably exacerbated the mental health crisis. It was never a policy priority.
And so far, the costs have been severe. According to the Lancet Journal, children’s mental health deteriorated in lockdown more than any other age group, while 8 in 10 young people reported that the pandemic had made their mental health worse, with 1 in 4 opting for “much worse”. While the younger generation are at lower risk for serious illnesses from Covid-19, the restrictive measures in place to protect the most vulnerable has ultimately sacrificed young people’s mental health.
However, saving the lives of the vulnerable through imposed lockdown restrictions, and the mental health and wellbeing of the nation should not be framed as trade-offs; this is not a matter of compromise. “Ours is an age of necessary sacrifice, but that should not mean needless self-harm”, says Owen Jones in an article from the Guardian.
The national lockdown has forced university students in the UK into quarantine, leaving many first-year students in isolation in unfamiliar settings with flatmates that they have only known since September. Times are tougher than ever before for university students. Mental health campaigners have described universities encouraging students back to campus as “reckless”, and a number of students have already dropped out or deferred, having expressed serious concern over a lack of support. In October, the National Union of Students issued a mental health warning and demanded urgent action to be taken over the tragic student suicides that have happened since the start of the university term.
The case for university students reflects the wider condition of mental health in the UK. In England, the Centre for Mental Health has predicted that up to 10 million people – almost a fifth of the population – will need mental health support as a direct consequence of Covid-19. Sooner or later, policymakers will be forced to recognise that not enough is being done to safeguard the population, and faced with the widespread demand to address the Covid-19-related mental health crisis. According to international organisations, including the World Health Organisation, mental health and psychosocial support must be integrated into Covid-19 governmental response, while the UN policy brief suggests that investing in mental health services now will mitigate long-term implications.
As the UK faces yet another lockdown, a national conversation about mental health, and the services and resources required to support those struggling, must be brought to the forefront, and the government must listen.
If only they had in the first place, the deteriorating condition of the nation’s mental health could have been avoidable.
Here at JAN Trust, we offer culturally sensitive advice, support, and guidance on any issues to women within the community, including mental health. If you have any concerns about yourself or an individual:
See Samaritans’ tips on how to start a difficult conversation.
Rethink also has advice on how to support someone who is having suicidal thoughts.
These free helplines are there to help when you are feeling down or desperate.
Unless it says otherwise, they are open 24 hours a day, every day.
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill