Effects of COVID-19 on mental health in Wolverhampton, Walsall and the West Midlands
It’s difficult to predict the longer term effects of Coronavirus in the West Midlands region, let alone more locally in Wolverhampton and Walsall, but a recent article from the charity, The Health Foundation considers some of the longer term mental health effects of COVID-19 in the UK. The article is significant for therapists and counsellors in the local area because it highlights how groups are being affected disproportionately, based on some of the social and economic factors we see across Wolverhampton, Walsall, and the West Midlands.
Anxiety, depression and lockdown
Citing a study of ninety-thousand adults by University College London, the article points out those on lower household incomes, living in urban areas or sharing their homes with children, experienced lockdown differently from the rest of the population. Although it’s not unique to the West Midlands region, it’s clear to see how this matches the profile of some of the most disadvantaged living in the Wolverhampton and Walsall areas. The experience of lockdown included heightened and continuing feelings of depression and anxiety, even after restrictions began easing in June 2020. A similar trend was observed for younger people and those with pre-existing mental health issues.
Factors affecting mental health
Making the case for a link between poor mental and physical health, the report goes on to detail the drivers for poor mental health during the pandemic. These include:
Around five percent of the adult population report feelings of loneliness. Although this is similar to pre-pandemic levels, a disproportionate amount of working adults have identified as feeling lonely for the first time. This is probably a result of being isolated from their work colleagues. Reported incidents of domestic violence also increased during lockdown, an indirect consequence of social isolation. Described by the UN as a ‘shadow pandemic’, it’s estimated that cases have increased by twenty percent globally.
As well as a loss of income for the newly unemployed, many self-employed people experienced varying degrees of financial loss almost immediately lockdown began. Recognised as a good scheme by slowing the increase in unemployment, furloughed employees also experienced a twenty percent drop in their income. Young people in less stable working environments seemed to have been disproportionately affected by changes in employment.
These changes can impact on mental health in a number of ways, including increased levels of anxiety associated with real and perceived losses of income. Worklessness and unemployment is strongly linked with poor mental health for many people. Although work can induce stress for some, it is also a coping mechanism for others. So, as workers were sent home there were fewer avenues for some people to share issues or feel a sense of purpose associated with their normal working routine.
As most people were urged to stay at home during the early phase of lockdown, housing inequalities came to the fore. The report suggests one in eight of the UK population have no access to a shared or private garden, and it’s reasonable to suggest these people in this group experienced lockdown differently from those with easy access to outdoor space. Although difficult to measure, those in poor quality accommodation may have suffered from spending more time at home. Again, this factor seems to have affected some groups disproportionately – BAME people are almost four times less likely than white people to have access to outdoor space at home.
Healthcare and other Frontline Workers
The report suggests it’s too early to see the longer term effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of frontline workers, but research from previous pandemics suggest a heightened risk for workers in this sector. An increase in depression and PTSD cases can be expected, with drug and alcohol misuse emerging as a consequence.
Finally, the report highlights how reduced access to mental health services was an issue in itself. As with physical health, a report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists pointed out a marked drop in attendances at routine appointments during lockdown. As a result, there was a tendency for people to delay seeking help until a crisis point was reached, presenting with more severe issues.
The longer term effects of COVID-19 on mental health are not yet known, but the considerations above suggest that issues created or heightened by the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown are unresolved. The Health Foundation article concludes that without proper funding, problems that are being stored for the future will remain unresolved. Not only will this limit so many people’s lives by affecting their mental well-being, but it will likely lead to declining physical health, with long-term social and economic consequences.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, or if you are thinking about therapy and would like to know more, please call me on 07824 385338 or use the form on the Contact Me page.