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COVID-19 and its Implications on our Mental Health

By Isabella Lopez-Scott

 

The COVID-19 pandemic had many implications for the economy, education, and healthcare. However, one factor that has been seriously overlooked is the impact on the mental health of the general public. Since the pandemic, there has been a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression. Major risk factors reported were younger age, those identifying as female and pre-existing health conditions. Many variables have led to this, including financial stress caused by the pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis, bereavement caused by losing loved ones to COVID-19 and isolation that affected many across the world.  

 

Effects on younger people


For many young people, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns happened at critical stages in life, whether coinciding with essential exams or removing the opportunity to maintain or develop friendships. In a study done in 2020, it was shown that 63% of the participants met the criteria for probable depression and 51% for anxiety.  

 

What are the factors contributing to this? The quarantines that occurred imposed intense social isolation on everyone, especially young people and children. The adjustment from school to online learning and a lack of social interaction left many feeling lonely, with young people from primary service having significantly higher levels of loneliness than the general population. Many were also left alone in abusive households during lockdowns with little to no support, contributing to many feelings of isolation and fear. The NSPCC reported receiving nearly a quarter of a million referrals in 2020/21, with a record number of calls from those worried about domestic abuse.  

 

Effect on women


The significant effect of COVID-19 on the mental health of women has many roots, from increased fear over pregnancies to the increased risk during lockdowns to violent partners. A study done in China in 2020 showed that, after the announcement that the virus was able to be transmitted between humans, there was a significant increase in scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) alongside a greater probability of pregnant women scoring within the cut-off for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.  

In postpartum women, there is a significant negative correlation between postpartum depression and social support available. However, the government’s lockdowns during the pandemic significantly reduced social support, from family and friends to professional help.  

 

The outdated Mental Health Act


The effects of COVID-19 are still being felt today, many years later, showing that change is needed in the way in which mental health policy is approached and changed.  

The Mental Health Act (MHA) was created over 40 years ago and contains the law and procedure of when individuals may be detained and receive mental health treatment against their will. Considering it has been so long since it was changed, an update is long overdue, with many policies having the opposite effect of what is intended. This act has many issues, namely racial disparities, its ineffectiveness on the younger generation and inequality for those in deprived areas. 


An independent review panel made recommendations for improvement in December 2018, including abolishing community treatment orders, providing appropriate wards for young people, and allowing for the right to appeal decisions. However, these changes are yet to be implemented by the government despite the Department of Health and Social Care publishing a White Paper and consultation in response. 

 

Why have these changes still not taken place? Many factors have contributed to the lack of action. As the King’s Fund noted, three main enablers are data, funding, and workforce. There is a significant gap in the government’s data for those detained by the MHA. This is due to a decision to cut costs in 2013 and abolish the use of KP90, the primary data collection programme for the Department of Health. The decision to cut this has led to incomplete and inaccurate data being recorded by both NHS and non-NHS healthcare providers. The changes in the White Paper have significant financial implications as only some of the suggested reforms have defined costs. This has led to many of the other changes suggested being ‘subject to funding’ with little to no confirmation on the status of these being put in place. Finally, there are disproportionately high vacancy rates for mental health trusts. This is not helped by the proposed changes, which would increase workload and training requirements.  

 

The pandemic has had a severe effect on the mental health of the population, with a specific impact on women and young people. Whilst this effect was worldwide, the UK alone shows serious concern with little to no support shown thus far from the government. Due to the rise in formal sectioning of individuals under the Mental Health Act of 11.8% during lockdowns, urgent action is needed to alter this act. The outdated act should make changes to allow those detained to appeal decisions, young people to be placed in appropriate facilities, and automatic advocates to be placed by hospitals for those without one. Until these changes and more are implemented, this act will not be able to effectively deal with the aftermath of the pandemic.  

 

 

 

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