The mental health effects of COVID-19 on the general population might be profound and long-lasting, and deserve serious attention; but they cannot be the exclusive focus of conversation. Those who wish to build fairer societies and health systems after the pandemic ends must learn about and prioritise the needs of people living with severe mental illness as a matter of urgency.
The Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK has released a report based on IPPR/YouGov polling of healthcare workers called Care Fit for Carers.
It shows high degrees of dissatisfaction with the UK government’s response, and that many health care workers are considering leaving their professions .
The report also raises the prospect of the longer term-impacts on health care workers, which are likely to include physical health impacts, as well as PTSD and other mental health conditions. These impacts are not abstract and hypothetical, as shown in a BBC article on the impacts of SARS ten years after the 2003 outbreak:
Bruce England was a paramedic on duty in Toronto during the early days of the Sars outbreak and, having attended a patient with a chest infection, found himself falling ill.
For him, and many others affected by the Sars outbreak in Toronto, the effects of that experience are still being felt today. Ten years on Bruce still experiences weakness and difficulty with his breathing.
“I had Sars. It’s left a lasting impact on me and my life. So did I survive it? Maybe not, it’s still there for me,” he says.SARS: The people who risked their lives to stop the virus, Kevin Fong, BBC, 2013.
An important from David Gunnell and colleagues in Lancet Psychiatry:
These are unprecedented times. The pandemic will cause distress and leave many people vulnerable to mental health problems and suicidal behaviour. Mental health consequences are likely to be present for longer and peak later than the actual pandemic.
They present a range of potential public health responses, including targeted and universal interventions.
The aim is to move, in simple terms, away from the “What is wrong with you?” towards the “What has happened to you?” question… One of the things we wanted to do was to really make very clear the link between personal distress and social context, social inequality, and social injustices. In other words, to put power on the map. Power is not only missing from psychiatric thinking, but it’s also missing from a lot of psychological thinking, and it’s missing from much psychotherapeutic thinking.