The mind is not isolated from the world it lives in.
While writing one of my last posts, ‘The Effect of Coronavirus on Mental Health‘ – I wondered how things would improve. Before the pandemic began, many of us were already struggling. We were already dealing with poor mental health – the virus just put it in a vacuum. Life seemingly ground to a halt, pushing mental health issues to the forefront.
There has been an increase in mental health awareness, with governments and organisations providing guides and online support – but it feels temporary. With the focus on returning to normal as soon as possible, it’s easy to feel like the help won’t be available when that happens.
The above quote is from an article in Nature by Rochelle Burgess titled: ‘COVID-19 mental-health responses neglect social realities‘. It discusses how the spotlight on mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. Burgess argues that these measures don’t take into account what people’s lives were like before and what’s been the main factor in their condition.
Here are the important takeaways:
- “Recommendations forget half of the equation: our need to address the social and economic conditions that contribute to poor mental health.”
- “Advice such as ‘stay off social media’ will do little to ease the anxiety of a young black man in constant fear of being kicked out of shops by security guards for wearing a face covering, or abused or even killed by law-enforcement officers who have been given new powers to police social behaviour.”
- “Pre-COVID-19, more than 700 million people around the world lived in extreme poverty, one in 3 women experienced violence during their lifetime and around 70 million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes.”
- “Nearly one billion lived in slums, with unreliable access to running water. Millions, most often people of colour, had precarious jobs. All over the world, billions lacked access to the basic necessities that make good mental health possible. The situation is even worse now.”
- “Human connection is important. But without food, shelter and safety, there can be little hope for sustaining good mental health during or after this crisis.”
Rochelle Burgess makes further excellent points, all of which require deep consideration by members of the public and those in organisations with the power to make real change. We should not treat mental health during this time the way we’re treating the pandemic – like it will go away once there’s a one-for-all solution (such as a vaccine). Instead, we should focus on improving the health, social and environmental conditions of those who are suffering. We should create surroundings that lend to positive mental health so that in times like these, people can persevere instead of feeling helpless.
It’s worth noting that stress and poor mental health make it more likely for people to fall sick, and when we look at the ranges of people succumbing to or affected by COVID-19, the poorest communities are hit the hardest. The pandemic has spotlighted the level of inequality in society around the world, and governments and relevant agencies should be looking to lessen this in general, not just during the pandemic.
Public Health England found that people of an ethnic minority were more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to their white counterparts. It is worth understanding why this is the case, with suggestions being that it is down to black and ethnic minorities working predominantly in front line work (healthcare, retail, food service), living in crowded accommodation, and overpopulated areas.
This issue is not a COVID-19 one, which Burgess stresses in her article, but one that has existed long before.
If there are lessons to be learned from this pandemic, it’s that working to improve the health of the poorest in society is necessary – to prevent excess deaths, loss, and overburden on health systems.