8.5 million adults and 1.5 million children in England predicted to need mental health support in the coming months and years so what can Sheffield do?

Covid vaccinations are on a roll and restrictions are being lifted – it offers optimism for some in Sheffield, but not everyone.

By Lisa Wong
Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 9:18 am

The Centre for Mental Health estimates that approximately 20 per cent of all adults and 15 per cent of all children in England – equating to 8.5 million adults and 1.5 million children – will need support for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental health difficulties in the coming months and years.

Studies have shown that the pandemic has laid bare pre-existing inequalities, such as social and economic positions in society, and exacerbated them.

The Mental Health Foundation, a mental health charity, has described the situation using the following phrase: We are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.

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Pre-existing issues have led to more mental health problems, which the charity believes is a ‘serious concern’.

Some with pre-existing mental health problems have had their therapy and other support stopped or compromised; some who were struggling financially beforehand have had to budget even further from losing their jobs; and some who experience discrimination in relation to disability or race, who already had a barrier to face, have been left with further barriers.

There are also various factors to consider across different age groups.

Public First – an opinion research agency that specialises in understanding the impact policy has on the public – looked at the impact of Covid on the British people using polls and focus groups.

Critical workers, Covid survivors, as well as ordinary members of the general public were included in the sample of 4,012 people.

It found that people are generally more stressed, less happy, more tired, listless and less physically healthy than they were a year ago.

The decline in mental health was most notable among women, particularly those with school-aged children at home and those who had lost their jobs or been furloughed.

Jackie Bridges, who used to work in events, said: “I’m currently furloughed and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll have a job at the end of it. I’ve had to move back in with my parents due to the financial struggle and it gets you down big time. I was saving up for a house but that doesn’t seem realistic anymore. There just seems to be a massive gap in where people are at, like for those who have a safe job, they’re doing okay but those on the other side, we’ve had to put a pause on life effectively.”

For the youngest members of society, they have struggled with the simple things, for example, trying to understand why things changed so drastically and being in school one minute and not the next minute.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the oldest members of society have struggled with loneliness, as most have had to shield at some point.

However, in the Public First study, 50 per cent of 18–24-year-olds compared to 25 per cent of those aged over 65, said their mental health was negatively affected by the pandemic.

About 32 per cent of 18-24-year-olds expected their mental health to take longer than a year to recover, and it is both young men and women who have reported pessimism about the future.

At an age where mental health problems are more likely to be experienced, young adults have had to deal with many uncertainties over the past year.

Reasons such as being disconnected from friends, family contracting Covid, missing out on formative experiences, uncertainty concerning education, uncertainty about future job prospects, increased screen time and exposure to social media are to blame.

Loren Norton, a first year university student, said: “After the whole A levels drama, I thought going to university would be a fresh start. Now I feel a bit like, should have I gone? Paying thousands for remote learning, at first not being allowed to go home then trapped at home, I don’t feel like I’m having the proper university experience. Then again, what would I be doing if I wasn’t at uni? The job market isn’t exactly booming for an inexperienced person like me. It makes me scared for the future quite frankly.”

As a young adult who is at the start of a new career myself, part of me is also anxious about the months ahead, and I have definitely found this lockdown the most difficult.

During the first lockdown, it was quite a nice break not having to commute and being able to get more done in the day as a result.

However, as time has passed, it has been more difficult to switch off, as it has become harder to separate work and home life – not helped by the fact I have only had one room to work, sit exams, sleep and relax.

The Mental Health Foundation believes that there is a need for a multifaceted response across various sectors, for example, in education, justice and welfare, as well as health.

Doing so could help people to protect and recover their mental wellbeing during and after the pandemic, preventing more severe mental health problems from taking hold.

It said: “The  UK and devolved governments must support improvements in people’s circumstances so that they have a better chance of weathering the storm and coming out of it well. While emergency income supports have helped many people, as these are wound down alternatives, adequate supports must be put in place to prevent the financial strain that strongly risks poor mental health.“