Building better mental health - during and after COVID-19

The psychological and social impacts of COVID-19 have been felt by everyone, and it has had a particular impact on the mental health of children and young people. The Office for National Statistics data has shown a doubling in the rates of depression in the pandemic and, in younger children, there has been an increase in emotional, behavioural and attention problems.

It was clear before the start of the year that there is an urgent need to prevent, detect and respond effectively to poor mental health in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood to prevent long-term problems. Members of the Institute for Mental Health (IMH) have been working to support frontline NHS staff during the crisis, and ensure the longer-term impacts are addressed. 

Professor Matthew BroomeSupporting and working in the NHS Professor Matthew Broome, Director of the Institute for Mental Health, explains: 'At the height of the pandemic, clinical academics from the IMH supported NHS mental health services across Birmingham by taking on additional clinical duties, and by being redeployed to cover colleagues unable to work because they were unwell or shielding. 

'A number of us also worked with University Hospitals Birmingham to develop and provide a psychological support service to NHS staff working acutely with patients with COVID-19.'

The IMH has also been involved in leading or adapting research projects in response to COVID-19. This included adapting the existing HSBC-funded project with Birmingham and Women's NHS Foundation Trust preventing bullying in schools, to include supporting teachers concerned about the trauma children will have experienced during lockdown. They are also part of a national study to examine the health outcomes from COVID-19, to assess mental health and neurological problems post-infection.  

Immediate action needs to be taken to prevent this pandemic further widening entrenched social and economic inequalities.

Dr Karen Newbigging

The Institute views influencing policy as central to its work to ensure that every young person has good mental health. As Dr Karen Newbigging, Deputy Director of IMH argues: 'Immediate action needs to be taken to prevent this pandemic further widening entrenched social and economic inequalities. 

'Longer-term, the government must consider an improved strategic, system-wide approach including the upscaling of community provision, and sustained investment in prevention to build better population mental health.'

Although our collective mental health has rarely faced such a challenge, the IMH has managed to highlight areas which have heralded promising innovations, such as stronger commitment to addressing homelessness and flexible working.  

As Professor Broome concludes, we need to look for bold solutions for such a major crisis: 'We hope our ongoing work will help support a "new normal" for mental health. We will all have to negotiate the profound consequences for mental health and equality that have been created by COVID-19.'

Support the work of our Institute for Mental Health and its fight to improve mental health provision for the most vulnerable people at www.birmingham.ac.uk/action/onmentalhealth