Covid inquiry failing to examine lockdown’s effect on mental health, organisations complain

The inquiry’s chair has said she does not intend to investigate the impact of the pandemic on mental health services

11th April 2024 about a 4 minute read
"The Covid-19 Inquiry’s refusal to examine the mental health consequences of the pandemic risks failing the people with pre-existing mental health conditions who died at five times the rate of the general population." Open letter from mental health organisations to Lady Hallet, chair of the Covid Inquiry

The effect of lockdown on people’s mental health is being ignored by the Covid Inquiry, according to nearly 30 organisations who have complained to the inquiry’s chair.

The organisations told Baroness Heather Hallett that she risks letting down millions of people if the inquiry does not examine the effect of the pandemic and multiple lockdowns on the public’s mental health.

Mind, the Centre for Mental Health, the Association of Mental Health Providers and others complained that the inquiry is following an “exceptionally narrow focus” after Lady Hallett refused to investigate adult mental health services.

They accused her of making a U-turn, because she had previously indicated she could look at the issue during hearings for the inquiry’s third module in the autumn.

A number of studies have shown the harm of the pandemic and lockdowns on mental health. Research by Mind found that about a third of adults and young people said their mental health had become much worse since March 2020. The charity found one in five adults did not seek support because they did not think their problem was serious enough.

One in nine children now have a disability

A study by academics at Bangor University, published last year, stated that those who followed the pandemic restrictions most closely are the most likely to be suffering from stress, anxiety and depression.

Other data show that one in nine children now have some form of disability following a post-pandemic increase in mental health conditions and behavioural disorders. The number of under-16s with a recorded disability has risen by more than a third in just two years since the pandemic.

Before the inquiry’s third module, which will cover health care systems, Mind suggested to Lady Hallett that she “should consider the impact of the pandemic on wider mental health services” and not just look at inpatient psychiatric care for children, as has been planned.

She initially said she would “give this submission further consideration”, including which area or module of the inquiry’s work “is best placed to examine these matters”.

More recently, however, she said that the third module “cannot include the issue of the impact of the pandemic on adult mental health services within its broad provisional outline of scope and the hearing time available”.

She said she will ensure the impact on mental health is covered by other modules and through the inquiry’s wider listening exercise.

A risk of ‘failing future generations’

In an open letter to Lady Hallett, the charities and groups said: “The Covid-19 Inquiry’s refusal to examine the mental health consequences of the pandemic risks failing the people with pre-existing mental health conditions who died at five times the rate of the general population.

“It risks failing the eight million people who sought help with their mental health and were turned away.

“And it risks failing future generations by not allowing a proper examination of what can be done better in the event of another pandemic.”

Other signatories of the letter include the British Psychological Society, Family Action, the British Psychological Society, Bipolar UK and Rethink Mental Illness.

The letter adds that “despite positive indications that mental health would now be fully considered by the inquiry, we are deeply disappointed by this U-turn” and said that the focus only on inpatient beds provided to children “means serious questions will not be answered”.

“The inquiry was set up to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and learn lessons for the future. It cannot do this without an in-depth examination of both the physical and mental health consequences of the pandemic. It must urgently reconsider its position.”

Rheian Davies, head of legal at Mind, said the inquiry needs to “look at what happened to the nation’s mental health and what political decisions – or mistakes – were made that we wouldn’t make again”.

FCC Insight

The Covid Inquiry has a very wide remit, which includes the response to the pandemic in the health and care sector. Given the very steep increase in adults and young people reporting mental health difficulties since the pandemic, as well as the much higher mortality rate of people with existing mental health conditions, it is disappointing that Lady Hallett has decided not to examine the effect of the pandemic on people’s mental health, or the response of mental health services. We agree with Mind that we need to understand more about the consequences of the decisions made at the time so we can be better prepared in future.