Whilst Covid-19 may not have hit its UK peak, many look to the future, and ask what society will look like in a post-pandemic nation. As seen after the economic crisis of 2008, mental health issues often develop in times of recession. Suicide and self-harm rates increase, mirroring growing unemployment levels, further straining state resources, and aggravating fiscal uncertainty. In the aftermath of 2008, the unemployed, and those who left education before the age of 20, reported the most mental distress. Since mid-March 2020, 1.4 million new Universal Credit claims have been made, as around 30 per cent of businesses reduced or cut employment in the second half of the same month. For those who are self-employed, especially in a new business, this is a particularly unsettling time.
As a nation in recovery, it will not only be those typically vulnerable, or with a history of mental health problems who are likely to suffer. Whilst our financial and personal situations may differ, what will be shared is the strange sense of limbo that seems to characterise coronavirus. We will be part of a world in mourning, both for the people we have lost, and for our former normality. In lockdown, many recovering from mental health problems may find this unavoidable isolation a triggering experience. In quarantine, the familiarity of previous struggles, could seep into the strangeness of new routines. Loneliness is being felt in houses full of families, as well as by those living alone. That being said, it has been reported that only 9 per cent of people in the UK want to completely return to their former lives after lockdown.
Although attitudes to mental health have shifted in recent years, Covid-19 could induce a further wave of progress in our treatment and understanding of this problem. According to the charity Mind, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in each typical year. And in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.
Though coronavirus may be alarmingly referred to as ‘the new normal’, such acute worry and uncertainty is unfamiliar to many. The universality of this newfound concern, makes fear one of the biggest challenges we face in the wake of this pandemic.
Even before Covid-19, state mental health services were already broken in many areas, tragically underfunded and still receiving less attention than physical health services across Britain. This is despite rates of depression and anxiety rising amongst teenagers by 70 per cent in the last 25 years. A particular tragedy in our current circumstances, is the inability to comfort grieving family members and loved ones. Worries around a secondary anxiety develop with this, as many experience guilt and regret in being unable to express a tactile love for those suffering from a loss.
Health experts have warned that:
‘spending in recent years and increasing demand for services have been “taking a mounting toll on patient care”, adding that there is ‘growing evidence that access to some treatments is being rationed and that quality of care in some services is being diluted’.
— 2018 Independent report on funding of mental health services across Britain
The popularity of online challenges to raise money for the NHS, shows many are devoted to the causes of our health service. From the ‘5k run’ challenge alone, over £2 million has been raised for the NHS. Whilst such acts of charity are inspiring, they should not be necessary. Our national health service should not have to act as a charity seeking donation, but should possess the funds to function through taxation. That being said, developing a sense of community and purpose in this time of instability, may act as a reassurance to many.
As a nation connected by loss, we may use this time of distance to connect, reminding one another that despite our separation — we are not alone.