Mylo Kaye is an experienced comms professional who is passionate about sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The effects of the pandemic have led to Mylo training to become a professional mental health counsellor. Here he talks about the potential legacy that COVID-19 will leave.
COVID-19 is having a profound impact, not only on how we work, live and socialise, but on our collective mental health. Lurking behind the headlines covering the virus itself lies a different health problem – that of mental health.
Mental health was a growing emergency even before the pandemic but has undoubtedly been worsened over the last few months. The sudden extreme changes implemented by the UK Government when it became apparent COVID-19 is a pandemic has contributed to the deterioration to many people’s mental health.
Mental health post-pandemic presents a serious challenge
Normality was effectively suspended overnight, leading to panic, confusion and anxiety. I’ve seen the effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health on a personal level. And as a professional, I’m constantly monitoring how the pandemic is affecting my clients, partners and colleagues and the wider community.
There is no doubt that the sudden shift to a very abnormal living and working situation has negatively affected millions of people’s mental health. And the way forward to deal with this is, as yet, unclear. Mental health resources were strained to breaking point before the pandemic and revealing statistics from mental health charity Mind show how vital it is that this problem is legislated for.
A new report from Mind titled The Mental Health Emergency shows that more than 50% of adults in the UK are reporting worsening mental health since lockdown. This highlights the negative impact of long-term social isolation, supported by Nuffield Health’s recent findings that 80% of people working from home during the lockdown say it had a “negative impact” on their mental health.
As someone who has closely followed the impact of mental health on individuals in the workplace throughout my career, I’m not surprised at these statistics, but I am concerned. In fact, I’m concerned enough to start training to become a mental health counsellor. There is a problem – that much is clear – and I want to be part of the solution.
Mental health issues affect different age groups and demographics
Studies show that there has also been a significant increase in couples experiencing anxiety during lockdown. Between March and mid-May, we can see that the number of couples (whether married, living together or in a civil partnership) experiencing anxiety doubled. This is down to many factors, such as money worries and childcare issues and most disturbingly of all, domestic violence. Calls to the national domestic abuse helpline soared by 66% during the lockdown. The same charity reports an increase in visitors to their website of 700%, compared with data from before lockdown started on 23 March 2020.
Other figures show that women and young people are particularly in danger of soaring mental health problems. A study by scientists at the University of Essex shows that more than a third of women experienced significant levels of loneliness during lockdown, and the rates of severe mental health problems more than doubled. Mothers of very young babies (four months or less) and pregnant women appear to be at even higher risk, with more than half in this category experiencing higher levels of loneliness and anxiety.
Women remained primary careers of children and the household throughout lockdown, despite societal norms shifting enormously. And for many, this was in addition to working either from home or as keyworkers. A combination of these factors shows the enormous impact of COVID-19 on mental health.
Young people dealing with abrupt changes of lockdown
Demonstrating the breadth of the damage done to people’s mental health across the board, young people also report rising levels of mental health issues. The University of Bristol discovered that anxiety just about doubled for people under the age of 29 since the pandemic began.
Official data also shows that young people between 16 and 29 are statistically the worst impacted by the pandemic. A research team from the University of Bath say that young people who have struggled with loneliness during COVID-19 are more likely to face depression in the future. And this is what we all need to aware of.
The detrimental effects of lockdown and the pandemic are likely to affect people of all ages for years to come. However, there is much evidence to support that for young people these impacts could be felt for around a decade, due to the massive interruption to their education and development.
A mass effort is needed to tackle the mental health crisis following lockdown
While Government funding for mental health care has been rising slowly over the last few years, the UK was unable to deal with the number of people needing help even before the pandemic. In 2019, the average wait time between being referred for help to state mental health services and receiving a second appointment was more than two months. This is rising and will continue to do so.
Now that lockdown is lifting and we will begin to see the real extent of the damage to our collective mental health, it’s likely that the system will become even more overburdened. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the leading cause of death for people aged between 20 and 34 is suicide or self-injury of “undetermined intent”. This is based on death statistics between 2001 and 2018.
Whether coronavirus and the events of the first half of 2020 will significantly increase these numbers, we don’t know yet. However, there is an estimated 500,000+ people who need mental health assistance directly because of lockdown. We must all act together to try and mitigate the worst of the damage that COVID-19 has caused, or risk long-term problems. At a personal level, this has prompted me to change my career so that I can actively help people struggling with mental health issues. I hope that on a societal, community and state-level there will be steps taken to combat the scars left by the pandemic, rather than risk the effects of a large mental health crisis.