COVID-19: what it means for mental health and wellbeing

As we enter a time of unprecedented pressure and anxiety for the population and for its health service, we need to make sure mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of our minds.

Location: Scotland Northern Ireland Wales England UK International
Published: Friday 20 March 2020

This is important for health and social care workers and for all of us as citizens.

There is much we can do as citizens for those we know or live near to who are in isolation and/or who are anxious and distressed about the pandemic. In these early stages as the storm clouds gather, we have seen both ‘good’ and bad’– online and local communities reaching out to support each other and those panic buying leaving the most vulnerable at even more risk and forcing food banks to close. Within services we have generally seen doctors, nurses, cleaners, and all staff step up and put themselves in harm’s way to help others.

This will take its toll, with GP practices and mental health services already reporting contacts from those with severe or worsened anxiety and low mood alongside those from health workers overwhelmed by the task at hand and its real risks for them and their loved ones. Older people who have been asked to self-isolate and those with pre-existing physical health conditions will be anxious and scared and will need support and reassurance. So too will young people worrying about the virus and its effects upon their health, their education and futures.

Mental health services will struggle to care for some of the most vulnerable in our society, with the wider stresses on the health service and staff absences, with sickness and to look after dependents. Infection-control measures will hamper our outreach that is the, not much highlighted, heart of good care. We will need our communities to help us and are confident they will by reaching out to those around them who need it.

We will do our very best as a team across primary and secondary care but are concerned about the limited thought and planning for the immediate care of the severely mentally unwell and the support systems that will be required very soon for the wider community and for healthcare staff to support them with the trauma and dislocation we will experience. An effort on the scale of that after other natural disasters will be required. It is important the Government works with us and other bodies to putt the necessary plans in place.

In the meantime the BMA offers support and wellbeing advice for doctors working across all healthcare settings. We also provide the latest COVID-19-related information for those with specific questions, or who want to see the most up-to-date guidance.

BMA community care committee and BMA mental health reference group.