COVID-19 has created a “parallel pandemic” of mental health issues that will be felt long after tackling coronavirus, new research warns, with younger people bearing the brunt across the EU.
The new survey, presented during an event on Monday (10 May), has shown that since the onset of the pandemic over a year ago, mental well-being has reached its lowest level across all age groups.
The biggest drop in well-being was seen among those who have lost jobs and young people.
Although this does not necessarily imply that older people have not been hit hard by the pandemic in terms of their mental well being, it does indicate that “younger [people] have been hit disproportionately higher than older people,” Massimiliano Mascherini, the head of the unit for social policies at Eurofound, explained.
Presenting the findings of the research, Mascherini also noted that women’s mental well-being appeared to have been hit harder by COVID-19 than men’s.
Survey data also suggested that mental health was more affected by restrictions than by the number of cases of COVID-19.
“The restriction of movements create a decrease of the mental well-being of our citizens, together with the contact tracing, as well as having to experience other relief measures,” said Mascherini.
He added that, in contrast, the closure of the workplace increased the mental well-being of respondents because it eliminated the fear of getting infected at work.
This has compounded an already existing trend of mental health problems, according to Pim Cuijpers, co-chair of the technical advisory group on mental health impacts of COVID-19 in the WHO European region.
As working-age citizens are often the ones affected, “[it costs] about €600 billion per year in the European Union not because of treatment costs, but mostly because of production losses” he added.
Mascherini warned that the effect of a “parallel pandemic of mental health” will likely remain long after the pandemic is over.
Likewise, Cuijpers pointed out that, in the longer-term, the economic impact of the pandemic “will also have an impact on mental health issues […] because we know that recession, poverty, unemployment have a big impact on mental health”.
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides stressed that she is well aware of “a tsunami of mental health needs coming when COVID-19 recedes”.
“On top of this, the first reports already speak of considerable psychiatric and neurological damage in patients diagnosed with COVID-19,” she added.
Mental health must be at the ‘heart’ of the recovery agenda
Irene Norstedt, the acting director responsible for the health directorate within the DG for Research and Innovation at European Commission, warned that there is still a great stigma on mental health disorders and mental health services struggle to meet the need.
Moreover, she added that often mental disorders remain undetected and “pharmaceutical investments in new drug development are decreasing”.
“We need to do a lot more research to come up with personalised prevention, as well as disease-modifying treatments or cures. And this is really urgently needed,” said Norstedt.
As the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the concerning mental well-being across the block, Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, sees the situation as an opportunity to do more for mental health.
“A silver lining of the current situation is the opportunity to forge a new pathway for mental health promotion, protection and care in Europe by placing mental health at the heart of the recovery agenda,” said Kluge.
[Edited by Natasha Foote]