Are we heading towards a mental health pandemic?
In the United Kingdom, it has been reported that 4 out of 5 adults are worried about the effects that COVID-19 is having on their well-being, and nearly 50% of those are reporting high levels of anxiety along with it. So how might this global pandemic affect us all in the long term?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a document back in March 2020, specifically looking into different ways to support and care for yourself and others during this outbreak and looking into maintaining positive mental health beyond it. They look at the ways in which healthcare professionals might deal with their mental health differently to parents looking after their children, the elderly with cognitive decline in isolation and even managers in facilities looking after a team of staff. Each section looks at the different challenges each my group might face, the mental stressors they might have, and overall gives advise depending on circumstances. Whilst this seems an adaptable approach, it doesn't quite look into the real long term burden that this global pandemic might cause.
But then, the answer may be, as with most things related to our current situation, that there is no way of accurately predicting long term effects of the pandemic. So far, most of the updates, policies, reactions and advice surrounding COVID-19 have been extremely changeable, last minute and fairly weak. From Governments to Health services, nobody is willing to commit to one avenue of thought, one plan of action, due to how unpredictable the disease seems to be. In this way, it is completely understandable that we would have no sense of long-term effects as a result, because we cannot say how resilient one person might be to the next. Could their resilience depend on how their government dealt with the pandemic? Is their resilience a purely individual one?
World renowned psychiatrist Vikram Patel gave a Ted Talk back in 2012 about Mental Health on a Global scale. In it he stated that in Europe alone, over 50% of those with mental health issues did not receive the help and support they needed, whilst in Asian countries like India, that number was closer to 90%. A lot can happen in 8 years, however even recent numbers have shown that, whilst improvements are being made globally in mental health, it still isn't in a majorly significant way. At the time of his Ted Talk, Vikram quoted the WHO numbers for those living with some form of mental health issue at being 400-500 million people worldwide. Now that we are in the midst of a global pandemic its hard to imagine how much higher that number may be, and how much more strain has been put on those 400-500 million by their current situations. In 2012, if you added all the different mental health issues together - dementia through to autism through to depression - then it would add up to more than 15% of the global burden of disease (in this case accepting mental health problems as a health/disease related subject). So how much of the 50% of Europeans are now getting the help and support they need? Or has the number risen with all those being affected but not being able to reach out, get help or even get a diagnosis?
Research is being done continuously on what effects the current pandemic might be having. In Australia they are researching the effects on children and their development as a result of several months foregoing school and not having the usual routines or ability to interact with others due to lock down. Across the ocean in the United States they are looking into the mental health affects on different age groups, after having has reports that 18-44 year old's have borne the brunt of the negative mental health effects of the pandemic.
Overall, the burden of such a disease may not become apparent for some time to come. With different countries and cultures and families dealing with it in their own way, their own time, we cannot know for sure how we will surface from this unsettling and unpredictable disease. However, one positive to take away from this could be the openness and awareness about mental health issues. With mental health becoming an ever increasingly discussed topic, perhaps the stigma and discrimination might be something reduced throughout our time in lock down. Once we are able to resume our new normal (whatever that may be) people might find it easier to receive help should they need it, and might not feel the shame that so many have reported in the recent past about having a mental health problem.
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