Ethnic minority women in the North of England had the worst mental health scores of any group during the pandemic
"The pandemic has made mental health for those in the North of England even worse. Coupled with a cost-of-living crisis that is hitting the poorest hardest strong policy measures need to be taken straight away to stop the parallel pandemic escalating further.” The Parallel Pandemic Covid-19 and Mental Health, a report from the Northern Health Science Alliance
People in the North of England have been hit by a “parallel pandemic of mental ill-health”, according to a new report from the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA).
The report, entitled The Parallel Pandemic Covid-19 and Mental Health, found that although the pandemic negatively affected mental health across England, those in the North experienced the “largest and most prolonged hit to mental health”. The authors estimate that mental health problems developed by people in the North of the country in the period April 2020 to September 2021 cost the country £2bn.
There was an increase in antidepressant prescriptions during the pandemic. In the North, the number increased from 4.73 to 5.32 per person. In the rest of England, the number increased from 3.86 to 4.37 per person.
People in the North under 35 were more likely than any other age group to have developed a psychiatric disorder over the course of the pandemic with an increase of 2.5 percentage points.
Ethnic minority women in the North had the worst mental health scores throughout the pandemic. Their scores were on average approximately 4% lower than those of ethnic minority women living in the rest of England. “Before the pandemic,” the report notes, “people from ethnic minority backgrounds had similar mental health scores to those from a white British background. However, at the start of the pandemic a fall in average mental health scores was observed to a greater extent in ethnic minority groups.”
The report also points out that mental illness is the “second largest source of burden of disease in England and is related to several co-morbidities including cardiovascular disease, respiratory and cancer. Poor mental health is strongly associated with social deprivation.”
The report notes that the government has committed to “tackling poor health in England and to improving healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 in its Levelling Up White Paper.” If it is to achieve this goal, it says, “improving mental health in the North of England will be central to achieving it.” However, it adds, there are “considerable challenges that need to be met. The pandemic has made mental health for those in the North of England even worse. Coupled with a cost-of-living crisis that is hitting the poorest hardest strong policy measures need to be taken straight away to stop the parallel pandemic escalating further.”
The authors make 10 policy recommendations. These include increasing NHS and local authority resources and service provision for mental health in the North; increasing existing NHS health inequalities weighting within the NHS funding formula; and building resilience in mental and physical health in the most vulnerable communities, as well as supporting them through the cost-of-living crisis by increasing benefit payments and by getting rid of the two child cap.
The analysis is based on data from a variety of sources, including the nationally representative UK Household Longitudinal Survey, the General Health Questionnaire (which uses a scale to assess mental health) and the British National Formulary.
Mental health has worsened during the pandemic. Along with another recent report from the Networked Data Lab, the NHSA report shows that some groups are worse affected than others. Ethnic minority women in the North of England have been particularly badly hit.
Britain’s labour force is shrinking, with roughly half a million people of working age missing from the workforce, a figure that has been rising since the start of the pandemic. Two-thirds of these cite long-term illness as the reason. This combination of chronic physical illness and mental illness makes for an unproductive labour market and ultimately damages the economy.
If the government is to achieve its goal of improving life expectancy, as well as create a more buoyant labour market, then these disparities need to be tackled urgently, through better targeting of resources to those most in need.