Socialist Worker

Handling of the virus has made mental distress worse

The virus has meant that mental health services are in crisis—Isabel Ringrose spoke to two health workers on the frontline  

Issue No. 2724

Isolation and economic pressures mean that mental distress is on the rise

Isolation and economic pressures mean that mental distress is on the rise


Coronavirus has had a huge impact on people’s mental health and on frontline workers.

A study taken in June estimated that one in five adults in Britain were likely to be experiencing some form of depression. Prior to the pandemic this was one in ten.

Karen, a cognitive behavioural therapist, told Socialist Worker, “The social isolation has been really bad for people. The pandemic has generated a level of uncertainty that has been difficult to handle.

“The things people did in their lives to keep mentally well were largely removed.”

Alongside the fear of catching the virus, its economic impact means people have been pushed into poverty.

Karen said, “people have been knocked into massive insecurity about basic things like ‘where will I get my food from’?”

GP referrals for people needing psychological therapies have gone up, but the normal routes to accessing therapy have not been available.

“There is no face to face contact which has made it much more difficult,” Karen said.

Appointment

She explained that 42 percent of people who call cannot book an appointment, because phone lines are so busy.

And the Tories’ shambolic handling of the pandemic has harmed people’s mental wellbeing.

“Life is understandably not delivering for people, but the government tells us it’s our fault and people should blame themselves for letting them and their family down,” said Karen.

“People were confident that there was a plan that would work. 

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“But more contradictory information from the government means people no longer have any confidence in their plans.

“It feeds anxieties about who to believe and trust. And doubt can be very difficult to handle.”

An NHS survey revealed that three quarters of staff questioned said their job had had a greater negative impact than usual on their emotional wellbeing.

Karen said it has been hard working from home. “You’re on your own all day. 

“There is no opportunity to check in with colleagues or have that immediate solidarity from others.

“Our managers haven’t thought that through at all. We’re expected to see the same amount of people. It’s all about meeting targets.”

Mental health nurse Beth told Socialist Worker, “It’s been really difficult because usually you’re not at the sharp end of something yourself so it’s easier to manage your feelings.

“But it’s hard when everyone else is going through the same thing.”

And staff feel as though they have been taken for granted by the government.

“They rely on the fact we care,” said Beth.

“I have colleagues who have not seen their own families so that they can stay and live with the people they support. And those are the people on minimum wage.

“You believe in helping others, but it gets to the point where you can’t do it anymore.”

Second

As a result, frontline workers are understandably worried about a second lockdown.

“It will be much more difficult to take advantage of the time we are allowed out when it is dark, wet and cold,” Karen said. “People will be trapped in the house much longer.”

Beth added, “People are thinking, ‘How are we going to do this again?’

“Staff are doing their best to gear up for another spike, but we’ve been underfunded for a decade. 

“There wasn’t a lot of resources or cash in the tank to go around once.”

The effect the pandemic has had on mental health and NHS workers must be addressed. 

If not, many will find themselves without crucial support that they rely on.


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