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Mental health concerns on rise

By Jonathan Powell in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-25 09:11

Surveys highlight psychological effects related to COVID restrictions

New surveys have underlined the link between poor mental health and restrictions in society caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and reports have suggested there has been an "epidemic" of anxiety and other conditions that could grow in severity as nations open up following successful vaccination programs.

The World Health Organization has said that beyond the physical impact of the pandemic worldwide, studies warn of the negative effects on people's mental health. It said the main psychological consequences appear to be "elevated levels of stress or anxiety, loneliness, insomnia and depression".

However, experts also have said that some cases of mental illness may more broadly be examples of the general challenges of the human experience that can pass with time but still require attention, such as simply discussing it. Experts warn that this state of mind can potentially morph into clinical depression or other mental disorders if not addressed.

There also are concerns that as pandemic-related social and business support programs end, mental health distress will carry forward and amplify.

A recent survey of Britain's Unite the Union workplace representatives, published ahead of International Workers' Day on May 1, found that 83 percent of them were dealing with an increase in members reporting mental health-related problems.

Gail Cartmail, Unite's assistant general secretary, said in a statement: "This survey shows there is an epidemic of mental health issues being suffered by workers across all sectors of the economy. As the country and the economy come out of the coronavirus freeze, the aftereffects of the pandemic are still going to be felt, including their impact on people's mental health."

According to The Guardian, a British survey found that people who suffered "sudden and massive drops in household income" during the pandemic crisis recorded the sharpest increases in mental illness.

"The pandemic took people who had been for decades living on a comfortable income into a totally different world overnight," said Neil Smith, head of analysis at the National Centre for Social Research, which conducted the survey. "The shock of that sudden drop toward the poverty line was enormous," he added.

Smith warned against governments ending financial support, saying such assistance might have prevented even greater levels of mental distress.

"We can observe increased mental distress across the population as a consequence of the pandemic, but people faced with growing financial insecurity have been far harder hit than the financially secure," he said.

Worry for the young

Children's negative experiences during the pandemic must not be underestimated, Sally Holland, the children's commissioner for Wales and a former social worker, told the BBC radio program Start the Week. She suggested that societies pay more attention to mental health overall, and that children must be given help more quickly.

On the same program, psychologist Lucy Foulkes, an honorary lecturer at University College London, said that blaming social media for issues affecting the lives of adolescents was too simplistic.

"My take is that it (social media) amplifies and reflects existing vulnerabilities in young people," she said. "It's just a new manifestation of problems that adolescents have always had. If you remove social media, I don't think you remove problems."

In her book Losing Our Minds, Foulkes says it is important to distinguish between "normal" suffering and actual mental illness in adults and children.

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Foulkes said: "We all want language and labels to interpret our experiences, especially difficult ones, and thanks to the public conversation, psychiatric terms such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder are readily available. And they have power. Psychological distress, whatever its intensity, is hard, and diagnostic labels allow you to say: I'm suffering, my problem is real, and I need help."

Foulkes said some people unnecessarily label themselves as having a disorder, "which can make them feel worse", while others who are seriously ill are not being heard.

Societies should view mental health and illness as a "nuanced spectrum", she said, adding that "we all like simple categories and answers, (but) mental health doesn't play this game".

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