The COVID-19 pandemic has frequently been referred to as a mental health crisis. Since the pandemic began, millions of people around the world have experienced difficulties with their mental health or have seen a loved one struggle. The pandemic has exacerbated mental health-related symptoms and disproportionately affected some groups of people, shining a light on the increasing need for action in the face of this significant health burden. We are, however, already starting to see positive initiatives around mental health which have arisen out of the crisis caused by COVID-19.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected our mental health and mental health services?
To give some background, we must first acknowledge the devastating impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health. As COVID-19 spread throughout the world and countries began locking down in early 2020, with it came huge uncertainty and stress about the future. In the UK, for example, around one in five (21%) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021, an increase compared with November 2020 (19%) and double the levels reported before the pandemic (10%). Researchers in the US found that the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder increased during the pandemic from around 36% to 42%. On a global scale, levels of depression and anxiety grew between three to four times during the first half of 2020, compared with previous years.
Another worrying trend is the feeling of languishing, a sense of stagnation and emptiness that is predicted to be a dominant emotion in 2021.
This decline in mental health has only been exacerbated by the fact that, as demand for mental health services has been increasing, services have been debilitated by COVID-19. According to a WHO survey of 130 countries, the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in almost all of them.