Mental Health Emergency: Experts warn the fallout will last for years – The Telegraph

When we are at war, says Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it is not the bombs and bullets, but the mental health fallout that is felt through subsequent generations. And so it is with pandemics.

When the dust has settled, infection rates lowered and the acute situation in our hospitals and care homes brought back under control, there will be another looming crisis to comprehend. “The casualties, as always, will be those whose situation has been made worse,” he says. The young, the marginalised, the financially precarious, the isolated and the bereaved – all of whom now stand to have their lives defined by Covid-19.  

There are any number of statistics to show what a catastrophe for the nation’s mental health coronavirus has been, but Prof Wessely highlights two recent studies to show precisely what we are up against. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, rates of depression in adults have doubled during the pandemic to one in five people. An NHS study released last autumn, meanwhile, found one in six children were now experiencing mental issues such as anxiety, depression and loneliness (up from one in nine, the last time the study was conducted in 2017).

“There was never any doubt lockdown would have a mental health impact,” he says. “The reason is simply the nature of a pandemic. It creates a massive threat but also impedes the way we cope. Social distancing is a very bad thing for mental health – particularly if you already have problems.”

He has no truck with those who wish to prolong social distancing measures ad infinitum until Covid-19 is fully eradicated. Instead, he says, at the earliest possible opportunity, there must be urgent action to address the looming mental health crisis.

“At the moment we can hide behind the fact we have to save lives,” he says. “Once death rates and hospitalisations are down, we have to really start thinking about the mental health costs.” 

In particular he is worried about the young. “We have taken away a whole year of students’ lives,” he says. “For many of us those are the times that defined our futures.”

On Wednesday the Government will publish proposed reforms to the Mental Health Act based on the recommendations made by Prof Wessely’s Independent Review in 2018. He welcomes the reforms, which include improving access to community-based mental health support. 

While the Government has pledged an extra £2 billion a year to mental health services from 2023, campaigners argue more is needed and sooner. The charity, Mind, has warned of a second mental health pandemic brewing, with NHS data showing a “huge increase in urgent and emergency referrals for crisis care”. 

Its chief executive, Paul Farmer, says the charity has also seen a massive uplift in demand with a coronavirus information hub on its website being viewed more than 1.7 million times during the pandemic.