Mental health impacts of pandemic in focus

By Tom Ravlic

September 9, 2021

A new study on the impacts of the pandemic on mental health says a research project diving deeper dive into the impact of the pandemic is urgent.
A new study on the impacts of the pandemic on mental health says a research project diving deeper dive into the impact of the pandemic is urgent. (sutin yuukung/EyeEm/Adobe)

Understanding the current and long-term mental health impact of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals and communities requires immediate and large-scale research, according to a team of authors of a recent paper looking at the impact of COVID -19 on mental health.

The paper Mental Health During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review and Recommendations for Moving Forward is released by The Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission Mental Health Task Force.

Its release is also timely, considering today is R U Ok? Day.

It reviews research on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health and makes seven recommendations, of which the most urgent is the commencement of a research project that takes a deeper dive into the impact of the pandemic.

“As the number of people infected with the virus continues to climb, humanity needs greater insight into how to support those who become infected, as well as those who care for the infected,” the paper states.

“Moreover, greater knowledge is needed to understand how most people have altered their lives, as well as what factors have supported or challenged mental health during this time. Future challenges (pandemic or otherwise) lie ahead. Increased psychological insight from this unprecedented event can help inform decision making and policy.”

Research papers reviewed by the team of 19 show evidence that levels of anxiety, depression, and distress rose during the first months of the pandemic but that rates of suicide, life satisfaction, and loneliness remained stable during the pandemic’s first year.

Two short-term recommendations that the paper’s authors believe must be pursued are a proactive screening and monitoring of current and long-term mental health impacts among those that have survived COVID 19, close relations of those that have had the illness, and those individuals with risk of greater exposure or burden of care.

The research team also recommends that governments should invest in mental health care so that the health system reaches a point where people with mental health challenges have “equal access to evidence-based medicine as someone who has physical illness”.

“Specific mental health resources and actions should be tailored to the resources available, but at the very least should include online cognitive behaviour therapy treatments supplemented by locally trained, although possibly lay, mental health practitioners,” the paper’s authors recommend.

Two other recommendations relate to individuals, organisations and governments ensuring they supplement existing mental health care with wellbeing promotion as well as ensuring access to mental health care is facilitated alongside social care.


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