A coronavirus mental health crisis is looming and we need more professionals to deal with it

A woman runs past a mental health mural on the Falls road in west Belfast: PA
A woman runs past a mental health mural on the Falls road in west Belfast: PA

Lockdown has been devastating for many people’s mental health and the worst could be yet to come. Leading mental health charities are exposing the breadth of the problem we face. Mind found that most adults with a pre-existing mental health problem said their mental health had become worse during lockdown. More than a fifth of adults with no previous experience of mental health problems before lockdown say that their mental health is now poor.

Other research indicates that 80 per cent of teenagers and young adults believe the pandemic has made their mental health worse. Overall, the Centre for Mental Health expects to see at least 500,000 more people experiencing mental ill-health if the economic effects of the pandemic mirror those of the 2008 banking crisis.

It’s clear that some of the biggest contributors to poor mental health have been social in nature – such as grief, loneliness, and missing the simple pleasure of time in the fresh air.

For those of us working in mental health, sadly none of this is surprising. As chief executive of a charity that recruits and trains mental health social workers, I know that social issues are key in mental health – relationships, housing and employment have profound effects on mental wellbeing.

The mental health workforce is therefore going to be more important than ever as we emerge from this pandemic. To deal with the looming mental health crisis, thousands more professionals are urgently needed, across a whole range of roles.

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, in mental health roles paperwork can be a part of making a huge difference to someone – for example enabling them to be discharged from hospital, or to get access to financial support or safe accommodation.

And our experience shows that, far from automatically precluding people from all mental health roles, a personal history of mental health problems often provides added insight and empathy.

Before lockdown was enforced, the prevalence of mental ill-health in the UK was already high: around one in four adults in England were experiencing a mental illness each year. The NHS was already planning to recruit 27,000 more mental health professionals by 2023/24.

With all of the recent signs pointing to the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the mental health crisis, it is clear that the thousands of new mental health recruits cannot come soon enough. It’s also clear that all of us recruiting into mental health have a major challenge on our hands. More still needs to be done to bust the myths and highlight the positives about jobs in mental health if we are to give people the help they need as we effectively address the impact of Covid-19.

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to take stock of how we provide mental health services and look for new opportunities to work towards a post-lockdown society where everyone with mental health problems can flourish.

Ella Joseph is chief executive of Think Ahead.

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