As experts around the world warn of rising cases of mental health-related issues, Jodi Coates, G&L’s Vice President of Resource Management, asks ‘are we on the verge of another pandemic?’
Earlier this year, NHS leaders urged UK government ministers to make a concerted effort to tackle the huge rise in depression, anxiety, psychosis and eating disorders that have emerged in the wake of COVID-19.
In the stark message, the ministers were warned patients will die as a result of dangerously long waits for mental health care unless a recovery plan is drawn up to tackle what they referred to as ‘a second pandemic.’
The COVID crisis sparked a dramatic rise in the number of people experiencing mental health problems across the UK.
It is estimated around 1.6 million people are currently waiting for specialized treatment, with a further 8 million at-risk people being unable to get on to the waiting list.
Meanwhile, projections show that 10 million people in England, including 1.5 million children and teenagers, will require new or additional support for their mental health over the next three to five years.
The NHS Confederation is now calling for a major recruitment drive and an expansion of NHS estates for specialist mental health care as part of a recovery plan. Currently, one in 10 consultant psychiatrist posts remain unfilled.
This has been accompanied by demands for a fully funded mental health recovery plan that is backed by a long-term workforce plan, to ensure everyone with a mental illness can get the help they need when they need it.
Health leaders also believe a key element of a recovery plan should be a focus on providing early support for children and young people with mental health problems.
There has been a 72 per cent increase in children and teenagers referred for urgent support for eating disorders in one year, and a 52 per cent rise in emergency referrals for under-18s to crisis care since the start of the pandemic.
In the United States, the picture being painted is very similar.
There, it was reported that more than one in four adults was suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder even before the pandemic.
However, this has escalated sharply: The Lancet has noted how cases of mental disorders have skyrocketed during the pandemic, including 53 million new cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million new cases of anxiety disorders.
Since the spring of 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics has partnered with the Census Bureau on a new, rapid-turnaround data system to monitor depression and anxiety. They have found that just over half of adults aged 18 to 44 surveyed have reported symptoms, as have 38 per cent of adults living with children.
Those needing help face a serious shortage of mental health specialists, a reduced number of psychiatric hospital beds, and a loss of job-based health insurance.
Even for those who have insurance, a lack of in-network counsellors and therapists means that care is frequently out of reach.
The result is that, right now, millions in America are going without the treatment they require.
Around the world, COVID has highlighted the need for urgent change in our medical systems and healthcare provisions.
Now, more than ever, we must accept that the mind and body are connected. While a virus may harm our bodies, it is equally capable of impacting detrimentally on our wellbeing and mental health.
Employers have a responsibility here too.
At G&L, we are proud to have systems in place designed to protect and nurture mental health, including access to therapists and counsellors, regular informal conversations with managers and HR, and a robust approach to proper flexible working.
However, collectively, more still needs to be done. We all have a responsibility to break the stigma of mental health, make it a normal part of our conversations, and create conditions that ensure people are comfortable speaking about it openly without fear of judgement.
It is essential that businesses consult with their employees and understand their concerns, to support them and their mental health as best they can.
Of course, this will take time and careful planning, but action remains essential as mental health is paramount and firmly on the agenda for us all in the post-pandemic world.
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