Deaths at the start of the pandemic could have been avoided, in what turned out to be the worst public health failures. 18 months later, how do we cope with the mental health pandemic?

Shefali Saxena Wednesday 13th October 2021 04:23 EDT

As World Mental Health Day was observed on 10 October and we might be progressing towards a post-pandemic life, it cannot be ruled out that we are in the middle of a mental health pandemic. Figures by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) earlier this year revealed that cases of adult depression made up a larger percentage of overall diagnoses by GPs than pre-pandemic. All ethnic groups saw a decrease in the number of depression diagnoses, but this was not evenly spread. Indian ethnic group saw the lowest (13.8%), the report said. 


However, the fact that health care workers and staff across sectors and industries in Britain thrive on people belonging to ethnic minorities, one can only try to empathise with what went on in the minds of workers, especially in the healthcare sector where there was no respite amid institutional racism, increased proximity from families (most doctors had not visited their home countries for over two years until September 2021 when India moved to amber list). Members of the hospitality industry getting back on their feet with a prayer to see a full house is yet to be answered.


Many had to take longer unpaid leaves to spend time with their loved ones in their homeland after 18 months. In an unfortunate incident, one of the doctors interviewed by the newsweekly last month, who was due to visit her family after a long wait, finally reached home to witness the death of her brother as she landed. This is only one of the many examples of what must it have been like for the mental health of Asians to navigate the pandemic while serving Britain in their own capacity. The heart-breaking truth is, that these deaths and the mental health pandemic could have been avoided had the authorities taken a proactive route to handle the pandemic in its early stages. 

Every week counted but Britain’s early approach “worst public health failures”

In a 151-page report led by two former Conservative ministers, Britain’s early approach towards handling the coronavirus pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history. This report which is being touted as a landmark inquiry also states that ministers and scientists took a ‘fatalistic’ approach which accentuated the death toll.

It describes “major deficiencies in the machinery of government” citing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not order a complete lockdown despite being alerted by the Sage Committee of scientific advisers two months in advance before 23 March. 

It also adds that the UK “squandered” its lead and “converted it into one of permanent crisis. “For a country with a world-class expertise in data analysis, to face the biggest health crisis in 100 years with virtually no data to analyse was an almost unimaginable setback,” the report says.

“This slow and gradualist approach was not inadvertent, nor did it reflect bureaucratic delay or disagreement between ministers and their advisers. It was a deliberate policy – proposed by official scientific advisers and adopted by the governments of all of the nations of the UK,” the report adds.

“It is now clear that this was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy. In a pandemic spreading rapidly and exponentially, every week counted.”

The report describes the decisions on lockdown saying that they – “rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”. In conclusion, it says, “This happened despite the UK counting on some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world, and despite having an open, democratic system that allowed the plentiful challenge.”

Mental Health in an Unequal World

A report published by The Lancet on World Mental Health Day this year talks about prioritising social justice, not only access to care. Research has highlighted the bidirectional link between poverty and mental health. 

The Lancet study explains that mental health in an unequal world will not be addressed solely by focusing on expanding access to mental health treatments, but by reducing inequalities. Scaling up quality mental health services is crucial but in the current social context is only a partial solution to problems that require more systemic intervention to the body politic. 

The report enlists five areas for policy action to promote mental health enabling environments: Safer societies for women, children, and people facing gender-based violence and exclusion; Reject hostile immigration environments; Decent livelihoods and fair wages; Safe early childhood experiences; Protection from and rejection of racialised and minority exclusion. 


Adults to be vigilant of their mental health

 Sita Brahmachari, internationally award-winning author of novels and plays for children and young adults has a book launch scheduled for November. She is an Amnesty Ambassador for the rights of children and Writer- In- Residence at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants and a Royal Literary Fellow. Speaking about Mental Health Day, Sita said, “Since I began this writing journey a decade ago my novels have featured narratives of well-being in which characters have faced: school anxiety, grief, the impacts of racism, perfectionism, poverty, fear of failure and the struggles of child-carers. Far from grim tales these stories, as our families, are often full of humour, compassion and hope.  Now more than ever our young; so disproportionately impacted by austerity and the  Covid pandemic needs adults to be vigilant of their mental health. Reading can be a cathartic process for growing empathy and releasing creativity and potential; subjects I return to in my forthcoming novel, ‘When Shadows Fall’ in which, following a tragedy, a small group of late-teenage friends, bonded by community, love and friendship, enter shadowlands and struggle to find the light.”


Aatish Sharma, Chief Executive Officer Southall FC told the newsweekly, “Mental health is of the utmost importance for everyone and there are many ways we can maintain a balanced and healthy life. One such way is to exercise regularly, which we at Southall Football Club try to promote and encourage to the wider community. Over the Covid pandemic, we faced our toughest test. Our players maintained a good fitness regime and worked on bettering themselves in areas they felt they needed to improve. Now everything is back open, we at Southall FC are a family. Players and Coaching Staff have their team days out and regularly talk to one another away from the stresses and strain of work on and off the pitch. 


“We know how important mental health is, which is why we are currently working towards Bringing Southall FC Back Home to the community. Southall is a hub for the South Asian community, but completely lacks Sports and Health facilities. We firmly believe with such facilities our community will benefit greatly. Not only physically but mentally, sport offers the best of both. As well as giving our community an opportunity to be stronger together by building relationships to be a family together.” 


The Football Association’s mental health and wellbeing manager, Dr Jenn Gandhi wrote, “My advice for anybody reading this who is struggling or is concerned that somebody close to them is struggling, is to start off small. Have that first conversation, reach out to someone you trust, and ask for help from a person that you feel comfortable with. There is always someone who can listen and help.” 

Recover from the disruption, isolation and grief

Brian Dow, Chief Executive, Mental Health UK told us, “The pandemic has been a catalyst for opening up the national conversation around mental health, but some of us will have felt the impact of Covid-19 more deeply. As we look to recover from the disruption, isolation and grief of the last 18 months, we need to think of the bigger picture and the many things in life that influence our mental health. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the many factors that influence our wellbeing, such as financial security, having a safe place to call home, and someone to call on for support if you’re finding it hard to manage. Given the continuing challenges we face, it’s more important than ever that we encourage people to seek support if they’re struggling and recognise some of us will need more time and support to recover from the mental health impact of the pandemic.” 

Research suggests that 75% of women will experience some menopausal symptoms while a reported 25% experience symptoms so severe that they consider leaving their job altogether. Anxiety is a common symptom that many women experience as part of menopause, which impacts their day-to-day life and within the workplace. Multiply this with the mental health impact of the pandemic. The stories could be difficult to stomach. 

Firms learn about scheme encouraging workplace conversations around mental health

Employers from across the Midlands have been given an insight into how a pilot scheme is supporting businesses in the region to start conversations about mental health in the workplace – and the vital importance of taking action. The Mental Health and Productivity Pilot (MHPP) held an online regional showcase event about its work, including its new “Bridge the Gap, Start a Chat” campaign aimed at improving the support available for mental health at work. 

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