Nearly three years since the first lockdown, two-thirds of the British public say their mental health has never been the same since the pandemic.
A report published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) earlier this month said that Covid-19’s impact on some people’s well-being was ‘minimal’ at best.
But those responding to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s (BACP) annual Public Perception Survey might disagree with that.
According to research set to be released Thursday, 62% of people surveyed feel their mental health has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 to some extent.
This is compared to 70% who said the same last year and 75% in 2021.
Nicola Vanlint, a BACP-accredited psychotherapist, told Metro.co.uk: ‘As we approach the third anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK, BACP’s most recent Public Perception Survey reveals that the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is still there.
‘Despite the recent conversations which downplayed the effect of the pandemic, almost two-thirds of the British public say their mental health has been negatively impacted by COVID in 2023.’
In May 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a ‘massive increase in mental health conditions’ wrought by fear, loneliness and grief.
And as these feelings slowly gave way to the ‘new normal’ the world knows now, the UK’s mood has continued to remain dark in 2023, the BACP found.
The professional body representing counsellors and psychotherapists surveyed 5,333 adults aged 16 and over between February 9 and 22.
They found that for the 62% of people rattled by the pandemic’s aftershocks, anxiety is one of the most common ways they struggle day to day.
Anxiety or concern about friends and family catching Covid-19 was felt by nearly 50% of them. 39% remain worried about themselves becoming infected.
Years of Zoom video calls and mixed messages on how – if at all – people can safely speak to others have led to 41% saying they experience social anxiety.
For 33%, financial worries creep into the night.
Overall, 19% of survey-takers said their mental health is poor – only a 1% decrease from the year before.
The BACP findings come after a report published in the BMJ faced a backlash for claiming the psychological fallout from the pandemic was ‘minimal to small’.
The research team combed through 137 studies on mental health and Covid, reviewing existing evidence on how the pandemic affected mental health, anxiety and depression.
They described how the general population was more ‘resilient’ than they might have realised. So while most people’s mental health went south, it didn’t stay that way for long or become as chronic as feared.
But they admit this was only the case for some, owing to their limited pool of research that only surveyed high-income countries in Europe and Asia.
Women, LGBTQ+ people, people of colour, children, teens, front-line workers and more all had different, often worse experiences of the pandemic, experts previously told Metro.co.uk.
Others said that the toll pandemic living has had on people’s well-being has yet to fully show itself as disorders can take years to develop, as some stressed from the very beginning.
Anxiety is a natural reaction to the pandemic – whether in the throes of it or three years later, Vanlint stressed.
‘The survey shows how the pandemic has led to an increase in different forms of anxiety that are still playing out now,’ the BACP therapist said.
‘People can’t just magically bounce back from a trauma experience. Our nervous system is constantly looking for safety and social connection.’
In the early uncertain days of the pandemic – when a vaccine was just about conceivable – our brain’s threat detection system, the amygdala, had two options.
Fight or flight, said Vanlint, ‘which in turn can lead to feelings of anxiety’.
‘During the pandemic, we all experienced a level of feeling unsafe and certainly disconnected from others,’ she said.
But while throwing on a face mask and logging on to Zoom eased that sense of dread, it’s a feeling that can be hard to shake off altogether.
‘Stimulating your vagus nerve can help manage this response and calm down anxious feelings,’ Vanlint said.
The vagus nerve is actually thousands of fibres that run from the brain to the abdomen, sending information about how organs are doing back to the brain, while the brain tells the body how to keep ticking along.
Stimulating the vagus nerve has been found by researchers to help with everything from diabetes to Chrohn’s disease – anxiety is no different.
‘Ways of doing this include meditation, breathing exercises, cold water exposure, humming, chewing gum, gargling and singing,’ Vanlint added.
Outside of nerve stimulation, though, Vanlint does have another suggestion: ‘You could also consider seeking help from a qualified therapist.’
And this is something the BACP survey found too, with 62% of respondents saying counselling and psychotherapy have become more important to society since the beginning of the pandemic.
While 60% feel that the government should invest more money in mental health services.
‘Therapists can help clients examine and overcome the root of their anxiety,’ Vanlint added, ‘allowing them to break out of cycles of negative patterns of thought or behaviour.’
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