All descriptive of a massive change in the way we live. As individuals and societies. Subsequently we are daming up a potential flood of mental health issues due to COVID-19.
The tide seemed to have turned but may be on its way back in. Is the ‘new normal’ just a way of saying a rest stop to another ‘new, new normal’ ? Cases and deaths are creeping up.
As of today, 8th of January 2021, there are 2, 957, 472 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.K. 79, 833 people in the U.K. have died (bbc.co.uk). The COVID-19 outbreak is not over. Social distancing, ‘wash your hands’ is a good pairing in the battle. How about mental health COVID-19?
The N.H.S. and Others
Our NHS has been lauded, and rightly so, for going above and beyond to treat and save as many as they could. It is like being in a war zone. Get in, treat, and move them on. The focus on the physical health side of treatment is a valid response to cope with the unprecedented numbers involved.
The NHS workers involved, I’m sure, all experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and reduced self-esteem. Probably a whole range of mental illnesses. I wonder when the last time was that many of them said ‘I feel good’. Who will heal the healers? Could it get to a stage where the N.H.S. breaks?
Let’s not forget others who have ‘stepped-up’. The ‘blue light’ services. Supermarket workers. Bus drivers. Carers and care home workers and many, many others.
Boris Johnson said in July ‘the pandemic has] psychologically been an extraordinary time for the country’ (bbc.co.uk). We know.
Society, in general, is facing challenges not seen since the Second World War. For example, social phobia is on the increase. Further, the lockdown has eased but people do not want to go out due to the fear of catching ‘the virus’. The strain on people’s mental health is immense. Care services are at full stretch. Our society is ill. How can we make it better?
Jenny Harries, the deputy CMO, told MPs on the House of Commons health select committee: ‘I understand that it’s a very traumatic time and I think sometimes medics themselves are quite surprised at how much it has affected them.’ (GPonline). That was in May.
Mental Health and the Sociological Landscape + COVID
Most importantly, doctors are reporting seeing an increase in severe mental illnesses. Most importantly, although there was a 30% drop in referrals at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak there are predictions that need will rise to pre coronavirus COVID-19 plus 20%
- There was a 30% drop in referrals to mental health services.
- There are predictions that need will rise to pre coronavirus COVID-19 plus 20%
- The NHS Confederation has reported that mental health services need “intensive support and investment” to help those who need it (NHS Confederation).
Sean Duggan, mental health lead at the NHS Confederation, said that at the peak of the pandemic people stayed away from all NHS services including mental health. It is possible the reasons were two-fold: To protect the NHS and avoid the risk of contracting the ‘virus’ themselves (bbc.co.uk). Mr Duggan states “The concern is, if you leave problems they can get worse.”
Waiting times for counselling before the pandemic were often challenging. According to Alex Matthews-King, writing in 2018, it was quite common to wait for six months with some waiting two years (The Independent). Can online counselling offer a solution to the increase in mental health problems?
I would suggest yes. However, be careful:
Mary Bulman writing in The Independent wrote: ‘Kate Anthony, fellow and co-founder of the Online Therapy Institute, which offers training to therapists on working online, told The Independent the lack of regulation of online therapy was ‘serious concern’.
‘There’s no regulation, except for small professional organisations that insist on members having been trained. But those are specialist organisations. Anyone can set up a website that charges for therapy’, she said.’ (The Independent).
Remember the above from 2018. Before the public health crisis due to the COVID-19. A tip: at least verify your counsellor is a member of a professional body. For example the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists.
A Way Out?
Coronavirus cases are starting to rise. There’s talk of a coronavirus vaccine, testing and tracing and other lights at the end of the tunnel. I really hope they are successful. Bolster the barriers.
As therapists and counsellors, we can help. The British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists has 50,000 members. A radical suggestion. Maybe there should be full funding for people to access counselling and therapy? Moreover, people on a low income or no income. Likewise, those with a mental health problem have had appointments cancelled and consequently left without support. Single people, those with existing or developing relationship problems, different ethnic backgrounds, for example, are all suffering. This virus is inclusive.
As far back as 2016 a (WHO) report found that ‘Every US$1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$4 in better health and the ability to work’. Again, before the current situation.
Surely it’s worth it.