A little-understood virus infecting and killing thousands, isolating lockdowns that have turned lives upside down and the uncertainty of whether, if at all, it will end.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been difficult. By May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) had already warned of a “huge rise in mental illness.”
But a major study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) this week found that the psychological impact of the pandemic was more of a “minimal” wave than a tsunami.
Mental health experts, however, told Metro.co.uk that for many more vulnerable minority groups, the pandemic was not “minimal”.
In the review, a team of researchers looked at 137 mental health studies in high-income countries in Europe and Asia.
They compared levels of anxiety and depression from January 2021 to the previous two years and found that overall mental health hasn’t changed drastically.
A review published on Wednesday said: “There was a high level of immunity at the population level during Covid-19.
“And changes in overall mental health, anxiety symptoms, and depressive symptoms were minimal to minor.”
While not everyone was affected, said a team from Canadian institutions including McGill, Ottawa and Toronto universities.
They admitted that women experience deteriorating mental health conditions. Especially, as previous research has shown, people disproportionately burdened with domestic tasks, such as childcare, and victims of domestic violence.
Elderly people, university students and LGBTQ+ people also noted that their despair had deepened “significantly in minimal or small amounts.”
The researchers’ findings revived the idea of ”human resilience” that social support and a strong sense of hope can help people avoid catastrophes.
Anxiety and depression are natural responses to any disaster, but they don’t always become chronic – people may be surprised at how resilient they can be.
But Professor Richard Williams, head of COVID-19 at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said immunity is not the same for everyone.
“Mental health services provided an extra 1.6 million sessions in the first year of the pandemic alone,” he said of the UK.
“It’s important that we take that into account when looking at the whole thing.”
The number of adults in the UK showing symptoms of depression nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
And it did not last long – just before the pandemic it was 10 percent, and by June 2020 it was already 19 percent.
“We know that mental illness can take years to develop, and some people who started dealing with the pandemic are only now being diagnosed with mental illness,” added Williams.
This is something the review’s researchers highlight: “The pandemic has affected many people’s lives – and some are experiencing mental health issues for the first time.
“Governments should continue to ensure that mental health support is available and respond to the needs of the population.”
Stephen Buckley, head of information at charity Mind, said mental health providers would also say differently to the team’s conclusions.
“The results of this international study of the mental health effects of the pandemic are interesting,” he said, “but they do not reflect the impact that Mind has seen in England and Wales during and after the pandemic.”
Buckley said Mind hotlines were crowded during the first lockdown. As demand increased, so did the “complexity and length” of calls.
“Data from the (ONS) also shows that the average ratings of all measures of well-being still remain below pre-coronavirus levels,” he added.
Overall, charting mental distress is no easy task as it involves squashing a lot of hard-to-explain feelings into numbers and graphs.
But doing so during a pandemic is even more difficult. Someone’s situation – for example, whether the person worked from home or on the front line – can make a big difference.
The lockdown, for example, may have been a welcome respite for some looking to get away from work or school. For others, it was a breaking point.
That’s why experts say it’s very important to be specific. But the data reviewed by scientists, according to experts, it is safe to say, missed many people.
It did not survey people in low-income countries, nor did it focus on the many vulnerable groups that are more vulnerable, such as people with disabilities or children.
“This leaves out the losses suffered by some less visible – but more disadvantaged – groups,” Buckley said, adding that people on low incomes fall into it.
For example, an NHS England survey found that nearly one in six seven-16 year olds and one in four 17-19 year olds had a “probable” mental health condition in 2022.
The pandemic has also taken a disproportionate toll on people of color, added Jeremy Bernhaut, head of policy and influence at Rethink Mental Illness.
“There are several significant limitations to this research, most notably the lack of insight into those who are likely to be most affected by the pandemic, including those already living with mental illness and those from black, Asian and minority communities,” he said.
The data showed that black and Asian people – especially women – were more likely to report significantly higher levels of psychological stress than white people.
LGBTQ+ people have also faced unique challenges during a pandemic that has led to despair, said Monty Moncrieff of the London-based queer mental health charity.
“It’s great that many people have been resilient enough to cope with the impact of Covid. But such a headline can mask a disproportionate impact on different segments of the population,” the chief executive said.
“This is true for LGBTQ+ people as we have been overlooked in the past when it comes to healthcare and support services.”
The mental health of LGBTQ+ people was not the best even before the pandemic. Essence: Years of reported lower life satisfaction than the overall population.
From LGBTQ+ youths stuck in homes with homophobic or transphobic relatives to closing lifelines like queer venues, Moncrieff said queer people have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“Multiple reports, from the BMJ to The Lancet, to surveys conducted by our community organizations, consistently show that the mental health of LGBTQ+ people has been adversely affected by the pandemic more often and on a wider scale than non-LGBTQ+ people,” he added.
In the case of Buckley, the findings of the BMJ review may not apply to everyone. Each person had their own experiences from 2020-2022 and will heal differently.
And governments need to recognize that as the world moves forward.
“To support post-pandemic recovery and learn lessons for the future, it is crucial to develop an evidence-based understanding of its impact on all groups, not just those least at risk of mental health decline,” he said. .
“We still have a long way to go to achieve that.”
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