Nation’s mental health failed to recover since ‘dark days’ of pandemic

The government urgently needs to prioritise mental health ‘more than ever’ (Picture: Getty Images)

The lifting of Covid restrictions was, initially, a ‘turning point’ for the mental health of millions in the UK.

After two incredibly unsettled years, that severely impacted the mental health of many, people were allowed to rejoin society and interact with friends, family and colleagues once more.

But while it briefly gave the chance to heal and ‘finally return to our formal lives’, it wasn’t to last with 2022’s wave of negative developments.

New online research by YouGov for Rethink Mental Illness reveals that mental health has worsened since start of year, when the nation was in the midst of the Omicron wave and Plan B pandemic restrictions were in place

The charity found than one quarter of UK adults (29%) are reporting that their mental health is now worse compared to the start of the year, contrasted against 21% who said that it was better.

Of those that said their mental health had become worse since January 2022:

  • 1 in 5 people (20%) reported they had experienced suicidal thoughts
  • More than 1 in 10 (12%) reported that they had experienced a mental health crisis and needed professional support
  • 21% said they had experienced panic attacks

The uncertainty brought on by the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine is also impacting people’s state of mind.

Tom Dunning, 31, who has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, social anxiety disorder and PTSD, experienced a decline in his mental health this year.

‘I’m anxious about recession and the possibility that the government simply won’t make the investment in mental health that they need to’

He told ‘Since the start of the year, my mental health has deteriorated to the point that I had to be signed off work.

‘The spiralling cost of living has made it difficult to afford the things I need, leading to many nights spent wide-awake wondering how I’m going to pay the bills, and with members of my family in the armed forces, I’ve also felt unsettled and worried about the war in Ukraine.

‘I’ve experienced mental illness in the past, and over the years I’ve picked up tools to cope and had recovered well. But the constant stress and worry this year put my mental health on shaky ground, derailing some of the good progress I’d made and putting me in a dark place.

‘Looking towards the future, I’m anxious about recession and the possibility that the government simply won’t make the investment in mental health that they need to.

Tom, 31, feels many are ‘sliding backwards’ in terms of their mental health (Picture: )

‘I feel lucky to have such brilliant support from my family, but I know a lot of people find themselves in a similar boat to me – things were meant to get better after the pandemic but we find ourselves sliding backwards.’

The results of the YouGov research showed younger adults were more likely to have faced significant challenges with their mental health this year.

Nearly 1 in 3 people aged 18-24 who said their mental health was worse reporting suicidal thoughts (32%), and just under a quarter (24%) reporting a mental health crisis that had required professional support.

Other impacts reported at high levels across all age groups include low mood/ feeling down (77%), feeling anxious and/ or worried (74%) and difficulty sleeping (60%).

Brian Dow, Deputy Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, told ‘The pandemic confined us to our homes, separating us from our family and friends and turning our daily routines upside down, and for many this triggered a decline in their mental health.

‘The end of pandemic restrictions earlier this year was supposed to mark a turning point, when we could start to heal and finally return to our former lives. But this survey reveals that, in the absence of lockdowns and social distancing, our mental health has failed to rebound and startling numbers of people are experiencing suicidal thoughts or reaching crisis.

‘Households are now grappling with a cost of living crisis, and with difficult times ahead as the country hits recession, the government urgently needs to prioritise mental health more than ever.

‘There has been much more awareness and discussion around mental health in recent years, and despite the pandemic there have even been some improvements in how services are increasing the number of people they support.

The cost of living crisis is having a huge toll on people’s mental health (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Yet it remains the case that too often people endure unacceptably long waiting lists to access the care and treatment they need.

‘However, ensuring the NHS has enough resources to provide support to everyone who needs it, when they need it, won’t on its own bring about the necessary change to protect and improve mental health for generations to come.

‘The NHS can’t be solely responsible for our wellbeing – people must be supported before their mental health suffers. The government must publish a funded ten-year plan for mental health and wellbeing which sets out how the drivers of mental illness will be addressed and how people will be supported to live well in their communities.’

Mental Health & Money Advice Service is available if you are struggling with your finances.

And for more information on Rethink Mental Illness, click here

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