Call for action on looming coronavirus mental health crisis

Essex needs to anticipate and respond to the “cascade of compounding psychosocial risks” triggered by the pandemic and economic shock without a cue from central government.

Paul Burstow, a former Minister of State for Social Care and now Independent Chair of the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System, has written to the Chairmen of the Essex and Hertfordshire Health and Wellbeing Boards urging action at a local level before any national strategy.

This will mean “social scaffolding” and making the resources and tools widely available to help people to cope, maintain and build resilience.

There is a growing recognition that Covid-19 and the economic and social shockwaves that it has triggered is having significant psychosocial impacts.

He adds that Covid-19 will result in a “full spectrum” of mental health needs and the response to this has to be more than a healthcare response.

He said: “I would call this an everything response. It requires actors in Government (national and local), civil society and business to understand the risk, be guided by the evidence and have the signposts and supports necessary to minimise the size of the adverse shift in population wellbeing and mitigate the consequences of the shift.”

Food shortages, unemployment risks, housing insecurity and rising crime are all being included in a mix of detrimental impacts on people’s mental health.

Mr Burstow is now asking about ways to best engage with partner organisations, what this might mean for responding to emerging need and how to anticipate which places and populations are at greatest risk, and how the pandemic may have changed this.

He also wants to agree how the idea of anchor institutions might be applied to meeting this challenge and agree some common public mental health messages.

He added: “My strong view is that there is no need to wait for national strategy to begin to act. There is clearly no single ‘magic bullet’ that will flatten the curve of the fourth wave but a sharing of insights, actions and resources would be a good place to start. It will need multiple actors to play their part and feel empowered to do so.

“There is already within your public health teams the knowledge of the risk and protective factors behind mental health and wellbeing. For most of the population the response won’t be about a service or treatment, it will be about the social scaffolding and making the resources and tools widely available to help people to cope, maintain and build resilience.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter