Expert Comment: Mental Health Issues Rise Due to COVID-19 ‘Almost Inevitable’

Professor Patricia Riddell, Professor of Applied Neuroscience at the University of Reading, said:

“People in the UK are living in highly uncertain times. Along with the uncertainty surrounding our future relationship with the EU, and the increasing evidence of global climate change, we are now experiencing a health crisis that is unprecedented in our living history.

“Since we have no recent experience of pandemics, guidance for how to best protect people can change as our understanding of the pandemic grows. As a result, it sometimes seems difficult to keep up with the latest advice, and we become increasingly uncertain about how we should best protect ourselves and our loved ones.

“It is almost inevitable that this will result in more mental health difficulties as people struggle to cope with grief from loss of loved ones, financial instability from loss of income and the increased worry about how best to cope.

“Recent research by Hannah Rettie and Jo Daniels from the University of Bath confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of people with anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic.

“In their survey, they asked people to complete a questionnaire which measured how well they coped with uncertainty. People that do not like uncertainty like to know what the future has in store and to organise in advance. They do not like to be taken by surprise and find that doubt can stop them from acting.

“The research found that greater dislike of uncertainty resulted in a a higher risk of mental health problems. Being able to wait to see what the future has in store can protect us from anxiety and depression. 

“There is some hope in the findings of this research since it also demonstrated that people who used coping strategies like humour, looking on the bright side, religion and using a support network were less likely to be anxious or depressed.

“In comparison, those that used strategies such as burying their head in the sand, turning to alcohol or blaming themselves for their problems were more affected.

“Good coping strategies can be taught and so early intervention which helps people learn to cope can be used to prevent a major mental health crisis that will be extra pressure on our already over-stretched NHS.

“What is needed is immediate action to find and help people who are most at risk of mental health problems so that we can ward of this looming crisis.”