21st October, 2020

COVID-19 and the looming mental health crisis

By Ian Perrin, Senior Account Manager and health specialist 

Despite your views on the current Government and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, understanding the UK’s coronavirus plan is an impossible task. I say that as someone who follows politics day-in and day-out. For people who work in industries unrelated to politics and Government, who work in small businesses, in schools, or on the high streets, trying to understand what is happening in our world right now is a nightmarish challenge. People the country over are suffering the constant anxiety caused by social restrictions, being told they are behaving recklessly, by relatives and loved ones falling ill, by struggling to get tests, worrying about their children in schools and about weddings, funerals, holidays, mortgages and – last but certainly not least – the security of their jobs.

This autumn has seen the worst of it all. During the summer, the UK enjoyed an August and September of lower COVID transmission rates, lower hospital admissions, and lower death rates. The government urged workers back to their offices, children back to schools, and individuals to drive the economy forward. But never far from the radio waves, the TV screens and the newspapers were voices ready to frighten the public about the long winter on the horizon, the infamous second wave threat, and the winding down of the furlough scheme. They were also subject to terrifying graphs, tellings-off about their demand for COVID tests, and threats about the availability and efficacy of potential vaccines. Rather than building public confidence in the UK’s handling of the crisis, the Government urged the public to take what was well and truly a leap of faith. Unsurprisingly, we are now in a position of national confusion, with confidence in the Government’s response dropping from over 70% in April to just 32% in October. 

With this cocktail of anxiety, is it any wonder that some are thinking about the looming crisis facing our country’s mental health? The comedian Ruby Wax became one of many names highlighting the issue, going so far as to say the mental health crisis will be ‘the next pandemic’. 

While the physical health of our nation is a priority, the effects of COVID-19 on mental health must not be ignored. Physical health and mental health are not mutually exclusive, they are interrelated and both are fundamental to good management of the other. Now, as our health system prioritises management of physical health, more than one in 10 patients are waiting six months for mental health support, and experts say the waits could ‘get a lot worse’. 

Organisations across the health system, including patients and campaigners, must amplify the voices of the few who are highlighting the looming mental health crisis, such as MIND, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and MPs such as Dr Rosena Allin-Khan. The time is now to work with senior decision-makers in the Government and parliament to both highlight the issue but also to bring forward solutions that can prevent a collapse of the country’s mental health. If the Government, parliament and the National Health Service understand the scale of the challenge ahead, and the potential course for recovery, decisive action can be taken to mitigate the damage that awaits us, not just in the winter but through 2021 and beyond. 

We would be delighted to continue this conversation with organisations, providers and campaigners who are engaging Government on the mental health response to COVID. If you would like to discuss this further, please do email me on or call GK Strategy on 020 7340 1150.