Friday, June 18, 2021
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Depression – the real pandemic

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ONE of the worst outcomes of Covid-19 and the policies used by governments to ‘contain it’ has been the long-term damage inflicted on the public. Much more serious than the disease was the authoritarian intrusion into private lives, the unilateral removal of civil liberties, and the stench of ‘something gone horribly wrong’.   

‘Innovative’ policies imported from the People’s Republic of China, endorsed by the expert opinion of Neil Ferguson and Sage, have infected politicians, public health experts, the NHS, and the media.  

Long before Covid, a report from the World Health Organisation identified depression as the leading global cause of disability, affecting more than 300million people.

During enforced lockdowns, those people were cast adrift, often left to their own devices and viewed with casual indifference. They, together with the rest of us, have experienced unprecedented withdrawal of GP services, been denied access to hospital diagnostics and treatment, and been refused specialist support. For some, there may be no way back.   

Recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports show that around one in five (21 per cent) of adults aged 16 and over experienced moderate to severe depressive symptoms in early 2021. Before Covid, mental health advocates described a 10 per cent rate as alarming.

The same report shows that 29 per cent of those aged 16 to 39 were depressed in the same period, more than double the figure before the pandemic (11 per cent). Ten per cent of over-70s experienced some form of depression, also double the number before the pandemic. ‘Late-life depression’ is common but it is estimated that 90 per cent of older people never seek help.

US experience is similarly catastrophic. A study published in September 2020 in the journal JAMA Network Open confirms that the prevalence of depression more than tripled during the pandemic. The statistics are staggering, with four in ten US adults reporting  symptoms of depression, up from one in ten in January to June 2019.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health Tracking Poll (July 2020) found that increasing numbers of adults are reporting major deterioration in their mental health during the pandemic. People say they have difficulty sleeping (36 per cent), with over-eating (32 per cent), increased dependence on drink or drugs (12 per cent), and worsening chronic conditions (12 per cent).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predict that ongoing public health measures together with job losses will expose ever more people to situations that will inevitably lead to poorer mental health.

Importantly, the mental health consequences of mass trauma are not evenly distributed. Experiences of sustained stress, low income, and less or no savings are strongly correlated with mental illness. Depression is a well-documented outcome of previous financial recessions.

People who have lost their jobs because of Covid-19 public health restrictions, those who were already unemployed, or under-employed, and those in financially insecure work such as in the ‘gig economy’ are much less resilient to economic shocks. In early 2021, 40 per cent of unemployed adults in the UK reported some form of depression compared with 19 per cent of those employed or self-employed.

People with disabilities suffered badly during lockdowns, with 39 per cent describing themselves as having some form of depression.  Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people who were instructed to ‘shield’ were increasingly prone to anxiety and depression while essentially in enforced social isolation. 31 per cent of CEV adults reported depression, compared with 13 per cent of non-disabled people and 20 per cent of non-CEV adults.

Housing insecurity plays a big part in the misery, with a higher proportion of adults who are renting experiencing some form of depression (31 per cent), compared with adults who own their home (13 per cent). Figures for depressed homeless are almost impossible to assess. Adults paying off a mortgage are more likely to have experienced depression than those with no mortgage.

The ‘hidden costs’ of Covid and lockdown are hard to measure but include the end of any vestigial trust in politics, the mainstream media and public health elites; the rise of a more insular and fragmented society; an aversion to policemen acting as agents of the state; an NHS which has failed to provide full medical diagnoses and care; and widespread impoverishment and economic loss.

In a statement to parliament on 13 January 2021, to launch a White Paper on mental health reforms, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, ‘We’re committed as a government . . . to see mental health treated on a par with physical health.’ Given his performance on physical health, this does not bode well for those suffering with depression and anxiety.  

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Kate Dunlop
Kate Dunlop is a mediator.

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