No, the pandemic sucked and that's ok

5 mins
10 Mar 2023
No, the pandemic sucked and that's ok

Mental health charity Mind has rebuffed a recent study concluding that lockdowns only had a "minimal" impact on our emotional wellbeing

image Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Focus Features, 2004

words Megan Wallace

We're fast-approaching the third anniversary of the first UK lockdown (it's 23rd March, FYI) which will likely bring back a flurry of memories both absurd and traumatising: from toilet paper-hoarding, hand sanny stockpiling and celebrities thinking that a black-and-white rendition of Imagine will save the world, to chronic loneliness, long-term separation from loved ones, and a ticking death count on the evening news every night.

And while it was objectively a shit time to live through it the first time, it has been shown to have long-lasting negative impacts across a spectrum of groups in society. At one end, research from the charity Age UK has shown that it has led to over a quarter of older people (classified here as those over 60) not being able to walk as far and left 12% feeling less independent than before. For those at the beginning of their lives, a report from the Education Endowment Foundation has suggested that pandemic-related disruptions has not only impacted the attainment of all students but exacerbated that attainment gap between those from privileged and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. And that's not to even mention the economic havoc which various lockdowns has left us with.

In short, it's not been so great, and we're still dealing with the knock-on effects. However, a recent study has suggested that (despite all the above) the impact of the pandemic on our mental health has been "minimal to small". Specifically, a systematic review and meta analysis of 94, 411 unique titles and abstracts - including 137 unique studies from 134 cohorts - published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has concluded that changes in general mental health, anxiety symptoms, and depression symptoms were close to zero or not statistically significant. The study did, however, find that across all areas, small negative changes for women were detected.

The study has since become the subject of a news piece on the BBC website which has received considerable attention. One tweet by the news organisation, linking to the article with the headline "Mental-health crisis from Covid pandemic was minimal - study", has been viewed 12 million times and quote tweeted over 8000 times, often with sceptical comments.

Ultimately, it seems that people are struggling to buy into the idea that the pandemic didn't lead to a general dip in their mental health - and for good reason. It's important we reject the "British stiff upper lip" mentality and speak openly and honestly about our mental health and how major events, such as the pandemic, can take their toll.

And it's not just the public who're dubious about the study's finding. Mental health charity Mind has weighed in on the discourse, with Stephen Buckley, its Head of Information, reflecting on what workers for the charity have seen since the beginning of the pandemic. “The findings of this international research into the mental health effects of the pandemic are interesting, however they do not reflect the impact Mind witnessed in England and Wales during and after the pandemic," he said.

"Mind’s local services have been facing increasing demand since the first lockdown, and during the pandemic the average complexity and length of calls to our Infoline increased significantly. Data from the Office for National Statistics also shows that average ratings for all measures of wellbeing still remain below pre-coronavirus pandemic levels."

He also pointed to the fact that the study focussed on countries with high and upper-middle incomes, potentially overlooking disadvantaged people who may have been more greatly impacted by the pandemic. "It’s important to note that most of the studies in this review are from high-income European and Asian countries, so overlook the toll taken on some less visible – but more disadvantaged – groups," he added. "In fact, the review notes that depression worsened overall and among women, older people, university students and people belonging to sexual or gender minorities.

Buckley concluded by pointing to the need for an intersectional approach to mental health service provision. "Mind will always call for an inclusive approach to mental health, which takes into account the needs of people from all backgrounds and particularly minority groups including people of colour and anyone experiencing poverty; who were hit particularly hard by the pandemic as a result of deep-rooted systemic factors.”

So, don't feel bad if you didn't leave the pandemic feeling like your best, brightest self. There's no shame in having feelings and no shame in struggling, no matter the circumstances. The important thing is to remember that you're not alone: and there are resources out there to help.

If you suspect that you are struggling with a mental health condition, you should book an appointment with your GP to discuss potential treatment plans. Anyone looking for shorter mental health support or to explore available information can contact the Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393.

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