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Early impacts of COVID-19 on people with pre-existing mental health conditions

Review brings together international experiences and responses of services to identify mental health management strategies.

by Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer)

A new review has captured a broad range of perspectives and experiences publicly reported in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, from people with pre-existing mental health conditions and professionals delivering mental health services across a range of countries.

The review, by a collaboration of researchers from University College London, King’s College London, City, University of London and others linked to the NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit (MHPRU), summarises reports from 872 papers and articles. The reports were published between January and April 2020, and collected from 28 countries across six continents.

Across these countries, the review identifies multiple reports that the pandemic exacerbated symptoms for people with mental health conditions. Many people had increased anxiety due to concerns about getting infected, while others struggled with the loss of routine, or social isolation and loneliness. Numerous reports raised concerns that social adversities and inequalities may continue to worsen.

Internationally, mental health professionals anticipated an increased need for services as the pandemic drags on, which could be coupled with reduced capacity, with particular concerns for inpatient and residential care settings. Many expressed concerns that coping strategies that have helped people through the lockdown may not be sustainable long-term.

The researchers write that, while there is not much official data available yet, mental health care staff from numerous countries reported reduced referrals and visits to mental health services in the very early stages of the pandemic. Potential explanations include fears of infection, beliefs that help would not be available, or concerns about being a burden.

The review also suggests that reports of swift adoption of telehealth tools by communities globally, such as video calls for patient contact, is a striking phenomenon, particularly given how implementation of innovations in health services is often observed to be slow, with both clinician and service user responses suggesting it may well endure after the pandemic.

Co-author of the review, Dr Justin Needle, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Health Services Research, School of Health Sciences, City, University of London said:

Among people with mental health conditions across the world, we found many reports of loneliness, social isolation and lack of access to services. However, we also uncovered more positive reports of resilience in the face of adversity. Mental health services reported many challenges, but also rapid innovation, especially in the adoption of telemedicine. However, major barriers need to be overcome for this to be an effective long-term solution.

The review was published in the journal, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Find out more

Visit the Centre for Health Services Research webpage on the City,University of London website.

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