How COVID has affected my Mental Health
How was mental health affected by the pandemic?
Choose which of the following applies to you…
Mental health support at university
392 young people answered questions about mental health support at their university:
34% felt confident that they can get mental health support at university if they need it. (20% neither confident nor unconfident, 45% unconfident)
Among those that felt confident about access to support, some said that the counselling at their university was of a high standard but that there were currently delays to appointments. Others said the support at university was much better than other places where they have looked for help and that tutors and lecturers were very supportive.
For those that did not feel confident, some said they did not know where to look or how to access support and that their university still had long waiting times. Many said that although services are available, they are not adequate in terms of the amount of support and the options open to students. “Uni could only provide six weeks’ worth of support. I’m not in a position at home to get help. My GP is at Uni and I don’t feel able to call them while I’m 400 miles away.” “University counsellor is overloaded so there’s a three month wait. I feel like no amount of support will fix how I feel.”
Concerns about the future
We asked young people what their top three concerns are for the coming months.
In general, many listed factors that do not directly affect them but have wider societal implications. For example, one of the top issues was whether vaccines will stop transmission, whether there will be enough of them and if they will work. Young people also talked about the financial implications of coronavirus both personally and more broadly for the country. Many were worried about inequality rising because of the pandemic.
Top concerns included:
1. Loneliness and isolation
Concerns about ongoing loneliness and isolation, or friendships being changed as a result of the pandemic.
2. Work and career prospects
Many young people were worried about either getting their first job or finding another job and how the economic consequences of the pandemic would impact their future careers. Many who are studying also mentioned their grades and the grades of their peers and how this would impact the next stage of their life.
3. The Government response to the pandemic
Many respondents did not trust the government to get ‘opening up’ right – they worried it would be too quick and lead to further lockdowns or increased levels of sickness. Many also worried about the wider implications on inequality.
Uncertainty continues to be a big factor – young people were worried about when they would be able to return to school, university or college, and when they would be able to see their friends again, or family they don’t live with.
For those that are studying, not knowing how GCSEs, A-Levels and university exams would be assessed came out very highly as a concern and a source of frustration. Some young people mentioned that they don’t want to lose another year of being young, having the chance to have fun and enjoy things they cannot now do.
5. Mental health
Many young people were specifically concerned that their mental health would deteriorate further. Some mentioned not wanting to relapse into behaviours like self-harm or having suicidal thoughts. Other described a growing feeling of ‘burnout’ from school, or work, or exhaustion from the pandemic.
“Jobs. I’ve applied for over 100 jobs, and I just feel like I have no chance. There’s a lot of fear around
family members becoming ill. Other people being able to start doing things as they’ve been vaccinated
but having to wait almost a full year to be fully protected.”
“Relationships with friends and family, future of young people, the wider effect of the pandemic such as
poverty and inequality.”
“The vaccines not working on the new strains of the virus. Everyone being allowed to be near each other
again, making me anxious even if COVID is no longer a threat. The employment opportunities now that
many businesses have collapsed.
What was the cause?
Lockdown has brought social isolation to many, particularly people living alone or those who have been shielding. Social isolation is an objective measure, which may or may not lead to the subjective feeling of loneliness. Perhaps surprisingly, the proportion of people reporting they feel lonely often or always during lockdown has been like pre-pandemic, at around 5% (2.6 million) during April. But groups that have been disproportionately affected by loneliness include working-age adults living alone, those in poor health, and people in rented accommodation.
However, social isolation has the potential for detrimental effects other than loneliness. There have, for example, been serious concerns about victims of domestic abuse being locked down with perpetrators. A report by MPs found 16 people – 14 women and 2 children – were killed in the first 3 weeks of lockdown, and calls to the national helpline Refuge were 49% higher than usual. This is an unintended impact of lockdown that urgently needs further study and action to safeguard those at risk.
Job and financial losses
The economic impact of lockdown has hit people unequally, causing immediate impacts on mental health. The Mental Health Foundation reports over a third of people in full-time work surveyed were concerned about losing their job, and mental health impacts on people who were unemployed were widespread and severe. A quarter reported not coping well with the stress of the pandemic (twice as many as those in employment), almost half were worried about not having enough food to meet basic needs, and one in five had experienced suicidal thoughts.
The advantages of good work are wider than the financial benefits it brings and there is evidence that volunteering also has mental health benefits. Numbers volunteering, however, have halved during the pandemic. This is because volunteers may be in at risk groups, or their activities have been halted, potentially putting five million people – often older or vulnerable – at additional mental health risk.
Housing insecurity and quality
People’s housing and their ability to afford housing are strong influences on mental health. People who rent have experienced greater financial impacts during the pandemic than those who own their homes, another example of a driver for poor mental health that is socioeconomically patterned.
During lockdown, people have spent far more time than usual in their homes. Quality of housing and the opportunities it affords – including personal and outdoor space – are highly variable. For example, one in eight households (12%) in Great Britain have no access to a private or shared garden, and black people in England are nearly four times as likely as white people to have no access to outdoor space at home (37% versus 10%).
Working in a front-line service
Evidence from past outbreaks, as well as early evidence from this pandemic, indicates that we are likely to see an increase in mental health problems such as depression, substance misuse and post-traumatic stress disorder for front-line health and care workers. We plan to explore this issue in more detail in future.
Loss of coping mechanisms
In addition to presenting new or enhanced stressors, the pandemic has diminished many of the mechanisms people typically use to cope with stress. The most popular coping mechanisms during lockdown have been staying in touch with friends and family and taking daily outdoor exercise, which has helped nearly half of the adults surveyed. Work has also been important, with the value for mental wellbeing extending beyond the financial benefits.
Many though have lost jobs or been furloughed, exercise and access to outdoor spaces has been limited, and some people have not been able to meet with friends or family. There are inequalities in these deficits: job loss is socioeconomically patterned, some groups cannot get outdoors, and some are unable to remain digitally connected to friends and family. All of this increases the likelihood that the pandemic will increase mental health inequalities.
Reduced access to mental health services
While mental health is determined by much broader factors than access to mental health services, these are critical for people experiencing mental illness. Services were already stretched with many providers reporting an inability to meet the demand rising prior to the pandemic, and lockdown is adding pressure that is likely to increase in future.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports almost half of psychiatrists have seen increases in urgent and emergency cases during lockdown, but also that a similar proportion have seen falls in routine appointments. There are fears people are staying away until they reach crisis point, which will result in a flood of exacerbated and untreated mental illness after the pandemic, and mental health providers are already reporting significant increases in demand and severity of new referrals. The charity Mind has found that almost a quarter of people who tried to access mental health services during a fortnight in April failed to get any help.
How does lockdown affect us?
Good mental health is an important national asset. Additionally, poor mental health is strongly associated with worse physical health. Thus, the impacts of the pandemic on mental health could lead to a longer-term erosion of people’s physical health, further affecting their ability to lead fulfilling lives. The unequal impacts of the pandemic may lead to a widening of pre-existing health inequalities, as well as affecting people who have not previously experienced poor mental health. Failing to value and invest in mental health during the pandemic risks storing up significant mental and physical health problems for the future – at great human and economic cost.
Since this blog was published, the Centre for Mental Health, supported by 13 other mental health charities, has published a briefing paper COVID-19: understanding inequalities in mental health during the pandemic. This briefing explores some of these issues in further depth, finding that the virus and lockdown are putting greater pressure on groups and communities whose mental health was already poorer and more precarious. The briefing paper calls on the government to take urgent action to address race inequality in mental health, including the urgent need for funding for organisations working in communities that have been affected most deeply by the pandemic.
The survey carried out with 2,438 young people aged 13-25, between 26th January and 12th February 2021 shows:
- 75% of respondents agreed that they have found the current lockdown harder to cope with than the previous ones including 44% who said it said it was much harder. (14% said it was easier, 11% said it was the same)
- 67% believed that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. This includes young people who had been bereaved or undergone traumatic experiences during the pandemic, who were concerned about whether friendships would recover, or who were worried about the loss of education or their prospects of finding work. (19% neither agreed nor disagreed, 14% disagreed)
- 79% of respondents agreed that their mental health would start to improve when most restrictions were lifted, but some expressed caution about restrictions being lifted too quickly and the prospect of future lockdowns.
Sourced from Young Minds Survey in January 2021.
Ways to reduce anxiety caused from lockdown
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- What methods can I try to try help my anxiety?