Mental health disorders are a group of health conditions that affect a person’s thinking, mood and behaviour, and as a result other areas of their life, such as relationships or work. While everyone feels low from time to time, mental health disorders occur when such symptoms are present for an extended period of time, when the symptoms affect their day-to-day activities and when they feel like they cannot manage on their own.
There are a number of mental health conditions, which vary significantly in their severity or symptoms. Some examples include: Anxiety disorders (e.g. phobias, panic disorders, PTSD), bipolar disorder (extreme shifts in the mood), depression (low mood disorder, characterised by loss of enjoyment and interest), eating disorders (e.g. anorexia, bulimia nervosa), paranoia, psychosis (characterised by delusions, hallucinations and confusion), schizophrenia.
The type of treatment will depend on what disease has been diagnosed, but also the individual; no treatment works well for everyone. Usually, a combination of treatment options is proposed by a GP or psychiatrist and may include the following:
A report from 2017 from Mind, the largest mental health charity in the UK, has shown that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children experience mental health problems each year.
Recently, the NHS and ONS have published a report showing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of the UK’s population, revealing a sharp rise in mental health conditions during the pandemic. For instance, the number of adults in England who suffer from depression has doubled year to year and the number of children referred for mental health treatment rose by 28%.
Most probably this is an effect of a host of factors: experiences of illness, isolation, uncertainty, financial insecurity for adults and school closures, disrupted friendships and confusion for children. Source: theguardian.com
Before the pandemic, mental health issues were more prevalent among doctors than many other professionals. The nature of the work, which involves heavy responsibility, dealing with angry patients, and long working hours can cause significant stress and pressures, which can accumulate to result in a mental illness. This has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for those on the frontline. You can read more about it here.
Improving the well-being of the NHS staff has been a hot issue for some time and it’s widely encouraged for managers and medics to build a supportive culture, foster peer support and increase the availability and quality of support services for NHS workers (source: bma.org.uk). It’s especially important to tackle the mental health of the NHS staff, as only healthy doctors and nurses can then help take care of other patients.
There are a few broad, fundamental ways to tackle the mental health crisis: prevention, tackling stigma and improving access to services. However, opening new mental health treatment venues, conducting Public Health campaigns or training more therapists can all take a lot of money. Hence, the 2019 NHS Long-term plan set out to increase the NHS budget for mental health, improve access to mental health care through hospitals and community care and expand specialist services for mothers and children.
Having seen the negative impact of lockdowns and school closures (in 2020) on mental health, among others, the UK government is also trying to adjust their approach and avoid such strict measures in the next waves of Covid-19. However, it may take numerous actions, billions of pounds spent and years to see any improvements, due to the complexity and extent of the mental health crisis.