The coronavirus pandemic has in some way affected every single one of us. We are not yet fully aware of the extent to which this has and will continue to impact various sectors of society. The amount of devastation, not only in terms of COVID-19 related deaths but the harm to mental health, issues of domestic violence and additional deaths due to hospital incapacity is truly shocking. As more statistics are beginning to emerge, the impact has become more apparent and I continue to feel increasingly troubled.
The awful impact that the UK’s national lockdown has had on mental health has certainly grabbed media attention, but the extent of this damage is yet to be properly acknowledged by the government. Recent data from the Samaritans shows a high percentage of calls during the first week of lockdown were reports of self-harm or attempted suicide. Sadly, these statistics have remained the same even as lockdown restrictions have begun to ease. One root cause of this is likely the severely reduced social interaction as a result of restrictions and/or fear of leaving home due to the risk of contracting the disease. Many individuals rely on being around others within their local community and when this is taken away, feel a sense of loss which can be incredibly debilitating. Moreover, many have begun to question whether there is enough support available for the vulnerable and those who rely so greatly on social interactions to get through their daily life.
Another significant reason for the worsening situation in terms of mental health may be the rise in unemployment rates. Many young people are understandably extremely anxious about the current economic climate and job instability. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently discovered a 0.4% increase in the unemployment rate between June-August, meaning that at least 1.5 million people in the UK are now without regular income. Another recent survey from the ONS conceded that the number of adults in Britain experiencing symptoms of depression has doubled since March. In these unprecedented times, it is clear why there is such an issue with regards to mental wellbeing.
We must do what we can to support those close to us. If you or anyone you know is struggling, please don’t worry and remember that you are not alone. There are many resources out there, such as Leeds Nightline which is an incredible service supporting students. Volunteers provide confidential listening services and support, via instant messaging and over the phone. The University Union also provides drop-in counselling sessions for anyone who needs someone to talk to.
Sadly, domestic violence is another issue becoming more prevalent within the UK as a result of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Claire Back, a member of the Oxfordshire County Council’s child safeguarding board stated that over the recent months, ‘referrals of domestic violence, sexual exploitation, drug exploitation and physical abuse to social services and the police have increased dramatically’. Back does suggest that the adverse effects on children’s mental state in the long run could be avoided by the re-opening schools; ‘Schools opening allows children to report any violence at home to their teachers, making it easier to keep them safe rather than being in lockdown where they can’t access help’. Often, the impact of witnessing abuse at home is just as detrimental as being subject to it. We will never know the full extent of incidences, yet what we are already aware of is startling. Women’s Aid are said to have reported a 20% increase in cases of domestic violence being reported during lockdown. Women’s Aid are one of the many incredible organisations out there which aim to eradicate domestic violence and provide useful support and advice for victims. They have recently set up a ‘COVID-19 Resource Hub’, which is available for anyone to access 24/7 on their website.
Unfortunately, a substantial backlog in operations and appointments for scans in hospitals is another consequence of the pandemic. The Lancet, weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, estimates a 3291-3621 increase in deaths across 4 tumour types for these reasons. Yet it seems this number could have been significantly reduced. The Nightingale Hospital in London built specifically to cope with the coronavirus never reached full capacity before closing in May. Tragically, it now seems it could have been vital in reducing the number of deaths from other illnesses. Although I’m sure many individuals would have still felt anxious about entering clinical settings given the context, unless they felt it particularly urgent. This all being said, our NHS has certainly done a tremendous job. Despite years of austerity and cuts in funding to health services, our frontline workers continue to amaze us with their resilience and hard work.
Many of the hidden dangers which have stemmed from lockdown are yet to be fully acknowledged. It is already painfully obvious the huge extent of physical and mental harm which has been incurred as a side effect of this pandemic. One fact we do know, is that social interaction is a basic human need that was stripped away from us all and without it many of us have suffered. There is increasingly compelling evidence that a lockdown was not necessarily the best solution, we need only to look to at Sweden’s management of the pandemic to realise this. Overall, the suffering from this pandemic clearly goes far beyond the disease itself.
Words By: Ellie Back
Edited By: Olivia Snelson