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The pandemic has affected people’s mental health and wellbeing in different ways and at different points in time as the pandemic has progressed. Impacts result from the wider effects of the pandemic on society and the public health measures to control it. Researchers are also investigating the direct effects of the virus on the brain and the mental health consequences of infection.

Overall, research shows that the groups most at risk of adverse mental health outcomes during the pandemic include young adults, women, those with pre-existing mental health conditions, those from minority ethnic communities, and people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage. Many of these characteristics can overlap. People with these characteristics were already at higher risk of some adverse mental health outcomes before March 2020; the pandemic has exacerbated these health inequalities.

The most recent data (April 2021) shows that the number of people contacting the NHS seeking help for mental health problems is now at a record high. These needs arise in the context of underfunded mental health services facing a care backlog and waiting lists. The NHS reorganised mental health services during the pandemic and delivered significant amounts of care online, but the impact of this approach on the quality of care is unclear.

Public health experts, health professionals and researchers state that more effective mental health care requires a better understanding of who is affected and how, the long-term impacts, improved knowledge of what interventions work, and a skilled workforce.

There is a broad consensus that the likely link between the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health outcomes supports the importance of giving funding for mental health equal priority with physical health, as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan. Public health experts argue that a broader policy approach is needed to support mental health with consideration of the mental health impacts needed in policy covering economic equality, early years support, domestic violence and financial security. The Government’s Recovery Action Plan commits to a “holistic approach” and continued monitoring of the mental health impacts to inform actions.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer-reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

Members of the POST Board*

Professor Kathryn Abel, The University of Manchester* 

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges* 

Mr Andy Bell, Centre for Mental Health*  

Professor Gerome Breen, King’s College London 

Stephen Buckley, Mind* 

Professor Helen Chatterjee, University college London* 

Professor Anna Cox, University College London 

Ms Lindsey Crawford, Rethink Mental Illness 

Dr Jo Daniels, University of Bath  

Mr Rob Davies, CLOSER, University College London* 

Catherine  Dennison Nuffield Foundation* 

Department of Health and Social Care 

Dr Helen Griffiths, British Psychological Society 

Professor Paul Harrison, Oxford University* 

Professor Matthew Hotopf, King’s College London* 

Royal College of General Practitioners* 

Dr Adrian James, Royal College of Psychiatrists* 

Mr Stephen Jones, Royal College of Nursing 

Professor Peter Jones, University of Cambridge* 

Professor Ian Jones, Cardiff University* 

Professor Helen Killaspy, University College London* 

Mr Simon Kitchen, Bipolar UK 

Dr Carmen Lau Clayton, Leeds Trinity University 

Dr Katie Lewis, Cardiff University 

Cheryl Lloyd, Nuffield Foundation* 

Dr Lina Martino, Faculty of Public Health  

Dr Harriet Moore, University of Lincoln 

Dr Naaheed Mukadam, University College London Hospital* 

Dr Emily Oliver, Durham University 

Dr Praveetha Patalay, University College London* 

Mr Raj Patel, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex*  

Dr Elise Paul, University College London* 

Ms Emma Paveley, NHS Confederation 

Dr Clare Perkins, Public Health England* 

Dr Matthias Pierce, The University of Manchester* 

Ms Natalie Richards, THIS Institute, University of Cambridge 

Sarah Shenow, MQ* 

Professor Kaz Stuart, University of Cumbria 

Melita Walker, Institute of Health Visiting* 

Professor Roger Webb, The University of Manchester* 

Dr Katherine Young, King’s College London* 

UK Research and Innovation* 

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.


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