Mental Health Awareness Week blog: Exploring the long term effects of Covid-19 and its impact on our mental health

Dr Layla Mottahedin Fardo, Clinical psychologist at The Retreat, says it’s unclear what the long-term effects of Covid-19 may be on our emotional wellbeing, but it’s vital that mental health is top of everyone’s agenda.

She explains how supporting the psychological wellbeing of the public will need a multi-layered approach.

We all have mental health and one of the effects of the current crisis for many of us, both individually and as a society, is that we have started to pay more attention to our mental wellbeing. This can actually be very helpful. When we pay attention to our emotional wellbeing we can start to notice more about how we are feeling and how our current situation is affecting it.

In usual times, we might respond to this by trying to change our situation in some way, or use some stress-relieving strategies which work for us. However, at the moment, this is quite different. There may be very little we can do to change our current situation and many of us have ways of coping which we are unable to use right now: meeting up with friends, having some me-time, or playing football, for example.

Because our tried-and-tested ways of coping can’t be used right now, stress and worries can build up.

It’s unclear at the moment what will happen in the future and therefore what the longer-term effects on our emotional wellbeing will be. Although everyone’s life is different, one of the common experiences to us all at the moment is uncertainty. The scientific community is working to understand Covid-19 and in doing this, bring more certainty to the policies which affect our everyday lives, but at the moment we are still living with the unknown.

Being unsure what the future has in store, whilst coping with worries about the present, can be overwhelming. It is very understandable that most of us feel we are “not ourselves” at the moment. We may be feeling sadder or more worried. We may be having trouble sleeping, be feeling isolated or more overwhelmed, as well as many other complex and difficult feelings which have surfaced in these times.

Supporting the psychological wellbeing of the public will need a multi-layered approach.

Addressing the cause will be a first step. Feeling stressed and anxious is an understandable reaction to job loss or debt, for example. This will be where a nationwide approach from the government is integral, to support the significant number of people who have lost out, as well as local services and charities which help with debt, housing and employment problems. Taking these important steps to reduce the source of many people’s stress is an important first step and will take a joined-up approach across local and national boundaries.

A good example is the ‘rail to refuge’ scheme in southern England and Wales, which provides free rail journeys to those seeking refuge from domestic abuse. This support is vital for mental health. It is well documented, for example in communities which have suffered widespread and significant job losses, that the mental health impact is substantial and the effects on the community can affect generations.

As well as the practical help which is necessary in order to support the mental health effects from the current crisis, there will also be a role for psychological and therapeutic support. It is anticipated that the need for this will start to increase in the next few months as the reverberations of Covid-19 on mental health become more evident.

As we all go from ‘getting on with it’, to having time to reflect on what has happened and what we have experienced, the mental health impact may become more apparent.

Mental health services have experienced underfunding for a significant period of time and therefore may find themselves stretched further in the future. Additional psychological services have started to be developed in some areas. It will be important and necessary to provide this in a timely way, without long waiting lists, and to give support which fits each individual.

People’s experiences will vary and specialist psychological support for issues like bereavement and loss will be important. Attending to the mental health of frontline staff will also be an important area; minimising the impact on staff who have experienced colleagues’ and patients’ illnesses and deaths and providing occupational therapeutic support.

We do not know the full extent of the impact of the current situation upon the public at the moment and what this will be in the future, but this crisis has highlighted the paramount importance of our mental health. It will be vital to have this topic at the top of the local and national agenda in the future, even more so in light of the current pandemic.

The Retreat is offering telephone and video link consultations for anyone struggling with their mental health. To find our more call 01904 412551