The negative impact of the pandemic on mental health

Friday, 11th December 2020, 12:32 pm
Updated Friday, 11th December 2020, 12:32 pm

A new survey conducted by Nuffield Health - the UK’s largest healthcare charity - shows four in five Adults (83%) are concerned about the ongoing negative impact of the pandemic on their mental health, with more than a third reporting increased stress and anxiety (38%) or feeling more low or depressed than usual (31%).

However nearly half of those surveyed (42%) don’t understand that poor physical health can impact on mental health, or that factors such as diet (69%), exercise (54%), relationships (52%) or sleep (45%) can help boost mental resilience (our ability to adapt and bounce back during times of change and adversity).

To encourage the nation to think more holistically about their mental health and how they can maintain it, Nuffield Health, in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, has launched a new digital questionnaire. Taking around five minutes to complete, the questions explore multiple factors that can impact emotional wellbeing such as: physical activity, work and finance, purpose and value, eating and drinking, sleep and digital detox. On completion, users will be guided towards information to help maintain emotional resilience, sources of support, and where to seek help for problems they may be experiencing. The questionnaire can be accessed at www.nuffieldhealth.com/mental-fitness.

The questionnaire has been developed following a new report by Nuffield Health, which explores how the illness-led language used around mental health can be a barrier to people thinking about the lifestyle factors that play a role in their mental health and to them taking active steps to enhance their mental wellbeing. Titled ‘More Than Words: The importance of language to normalise everyday mental health and enable access to support in uncertain times’, the report summarises discussions held by a panel of mental health experts around the way society thinks about and discusses mental health.

Part of the panel included Dr Alex George, A&E and TV doctor, presenter and podcaster, who is supporting the launch of the questionnaire. Dr Alex explains: “Everyone has mental health and we need to look after it in the same way we look after our physical health. I have struggled with loneliness and depression, and it wasn’t until I took a 360 degree look at improving my health by increasing my social interactions, physical activity and improving my diet that I was able to build my overall resilience. Now, more than ever, we need to be physically and mentally fit to help us cope with the challenges imposed on us by the pandemic, so I’d encourage everyone of every age to take the questionnaire and take active steps to protect their emotional wellbeing.”

The panel, which was led by Nuffield Health, also included Dr David Crepaz-Keay, Head of Empowerment and Social Inclusion at the Mental Health Foundation and Dr Radha Modgil, GP, broadcaster, author and wellbeing campaigner. Discussions focused on how the illness-led language used around mental health creates a barrier to people seeking help or thinking about their emotional health as something that can be enhanced and protected. This was reinforced by survey findings showing over a third of people (37%) wouldn’t seek help for worry their problem wasn’t serious enough and two-thirds are unaware that a mental health professional can help to prevent mental ill health (68%) or help to actively improve mental fitness (69%).

With a fifth (22%) of those surveyed struggling to talk about mental health, the report explores the need to demedicalise the language used to discuss our everyday emotional wellbeing to break down stigma, help facilitate conversations and open up access to support.

Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, says: “We hope the report and the questionnaire will start to change the way we approach conversations about mental health and encourage people to see mental health as something that is experienced by everyone. It fluctuates throughout our lives according to our experiences, so at certain times we need to work harder at being mentally fit than others. Mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness though and there are lots of small changes we can make to build our resilience and help us cope with what life throws at us. There is also help out there no matter how big or small the problem feels. The most important thing is that we change the way we talk about mental health to help more people open up about the challenges they are experiencing.”

The report calls on employers, schools and media - as those with the ability and access to large proportions of the population across all ages - to help to drive the de-medicalisation of everyday mental health.  With more than 10 million people predicted to need mental health support in the coming months and years due to the pandemic, it is more important than ever that people of all ages can be encouraged to seek help sooner. The full report can be accessed at https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/about-us/our-impact/our-research.

Nuffield Health has emotional wellbeing clinics located in over half of its fitness and wellbeing centres, and provides online therapy via its website. Details can be found at:  https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/emotional-wellbeing/our-therapies.