The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could result in a UK-wide mental health crisis if nothing is done to address the issue, industry experts have warned.
In The impact of COVID-19 on mental health services in England report published in early July, The British Medical Association (BMA) warned that the ‘consequences’ of the pandemic on mental health could be ‘considerable’.
The likely economic downturn, social isolation and increased demand for otherwise stretched services are all likely to impact funding and access to mental health services and treatment.
People could develop mental illness for the first time while those with existing problems could see symptoms returning, the report said.
The BMA expressed particular concern around the lack of resources already prevalent in the sector and warned that the expected increase in demand was likely to make things worse and widen existing inequalities.
Not only has the pandemic negatively impacted mental health for many, some people may have delayed accessing the support they need during this time, and as the report identifies public resources are increasingly stretched. Employers won’t exclusively see this through increases in absence, the worrying trend is presenteeism (when people come to work when ill and perform at lower levels) which is all the more possible as many continue to work from home.
Among their recommendations, the BMA called for ‘sufficient attention’ to be given to certain vulnerable groups and demographics and for the government to ‘properly fund and equip services’ in response to increased demand on mental health services and treatments. The BMA urged the government to double their mental health spending in the NHS Long-Term plan and to ensure access to services are restored as quickly as possible.
Preventative measures too, should be prioritised to look after the mental health of public and the health workforce alike, including developing a cross-governmental strategy focused on improving public mental health and guaranteeing the recruitment and retention of mental health staff as well as taking steps to improve the health and wellbeing of all healthcare staff, the report added.
Responding to the paper, BMA mental health policy lead Dr Andrew Molodynski said: “Covid-19 has meant a sudden and stark change in the way people live their lives but as we return to some semblance of normality, we are faced with the longer-term impact this pandemic will have on mental health.
“Our mental health services are already on the backfoot – under-resourced and underfunded – which makes the prospect of coping with the potential avalanche in demand extremely concerning.”
Molodynski added there may be a ‘higher risk’ of suicide among vulnerable groups including the elderly who could be negatively impacted by social isolation and those with existing mental health conditions.
Employers have a vitally important role to play to protect and enhance the mental health of their employees. A holistic approach is required, starting with creating the right conditions for people to feel able to talk about their mental health, training line managers and other staff to proactively spot signs and symptoms and with the know-how to support and signpost, providing the best mix of benefits and services, and ensuring that those with longer-term mental health issues access the most appropriate adjustments and support to remain in work.
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