COVID-19: not a ‘mental health crisis’, healthcare experts warn

Anxiety and depression during COVID-19 pandemic are features of ‘mental wellness, not mental illness’, a group of mental healthcare experts have said

A hub set up to distribute food helps keep people physically and mentally well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: PA

A group of mental healthcare professionals from nursing and other professions has highlighted the dangers of labelling COVID-19 ‘a mental health crisis’.

Their comments follow publication of some media headlines suggesting that, for example, ‘we face a pandemic of mental health disorders’ and that the UK should ‘expect depression, anxiety and stress disorders’ as a result of the pandemic.

‘Public Health England has said that anxiety in the face of a pandemic is normal. It is neither true nor helpful to frame these reactions as a mental health crisis,’ the group said.

Jonathan Gadsby, research fellow for mental health and learning disability nursing at Birmingham City University, joined mental health experts from the universities of East London, Liverpool and Roehampton, London, in issuing a joint statement outlining why warnings of a mental health crisis may be harmful.

Anxiety and depression can be signs of enhanced connection and concern for other humans

‘The experience of anxiety, depression and other expressions of a very troubled mind cannot easily be said to be “mental illness” during this coronavirus pandemic nor in the context of other emergencies we currently face,’ Dr Gadsby said.

Jonathan Gadsby

‘Instead, they may frequently be signs of enhanced connection and concern for other humans, other species and the planet and an acknowledgement of the precariousness that is so evident in our lives, albeit very unequally.

‘All of those, however unsettling, are features of mental wellness, not mental illness, crucial for understanding oneself and the world, and for energising the solutions we need.’

The group also outlined other concerns over some misleading media headlines.

‘First, it inclines us to offer the wrong solutions – such as psychiatric drugs instead of food, clothing and other essential resources.

‘Second, it gives the message that we cannot cope without expert help.

‘Third, we miss the chance to channel these feelings into finding solutions for the very real social problems highlighted by the pandemic.’

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