Has the pandemic really caused a mental health crisis? | Letters

Many mental health professionals will have read your carte blanche for a further massive expansion of psychiatry into our lives with dismay (Editorial, 12 April).

The “mental health pandemic” trope simply does not fit the evidence. Yes, some people have suffered greatly, but the overall picture is of a population that is largely resilient, although understandably bored, lonely and frustrated at times.

Moreover, those who are struggling have not suddenly fallen victim to a “mental illness” that has unfortunately descended along with the virus. Research shows that these are the people most affected by the glaring long-term inequalities highlighted by the pandemic. They are facing job losses and financial insecurity; or they are older people with few social contacts; or healthcare workers filling the gaps left by years of underfunding; or mothers with young children trapped in unsuitable housing.

It should surprise no one that people with more to be depressed and anxious about are feeling more depressed and anxious. Reframing understandable responses to difficult life circumstances as “mental illness” plays into professional interests and political denial. The answers to Covid-related distress are not to be found in a label or a pill. The message of the pandemic is, overwhelmingly, that we need to build back better.
Dr Lucy Johnstone
(Consultant clinical psychologist), Bristol

Your editorial on the UK’s mental health crisis caused by the pandemic was timely for frontline professionals. Parity of esteem for mental health seems a distant dream, as we continue to drift further away from meaningful funding for services. The crisis is further downplayed by claims that people are simply experiencing normal responses to distress which should not be pathologised as mental illness.

Unfortunately, the facts point to a far more serious message. Mental health clinicians have seen a significant increase in relapse and new cases over the past year, as well as a building swell of first episodes of PTSD, anxiety and depression. We must meet the challenge we face and provide care for those who are most vulnerable and suffering acutely.
Dr Annie Hickox
(Consultant clinical psychologist), North Kilvington, North Yorkshire


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