A survey found that many people experience ongoing anxiety as a result of the Covid pandemic
“The survey shows how the pandemic has led to an increase in different forms of anxiety that are still playing out now. People can’t just magically bounce back from a trauma experience. Our nervous system is constantly looking for safety and social connection.” Nicola Vanlint, psychotherapist
Two in three people in Britain say their mental health has suffered as a result of the Covid pandemic, according to a new survey from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
The BACP’s annual public perception survey found that 62% of people feel their mental health has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 to some extent. This compares with 70% in 2022 and 75% in 2021 saying that Covid had negatively affected their mental health.
This contradicts the findings of an international study, published in the BMJ earlier this month, which found that the impact of Covid-19 on people’s mental health had been “minimal”.
Nicola Vanlint, a BACP-accredited psychotherapist, told Metro.co.uk: “As we approach the third anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK, BACP’s most recent public perception survey reveals that the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is still there. Despite the recent conversations which downplayed the effect of the pandemic, almost two-thirds of the British public say their mental health has been negatively impacted by COVID in 2023.”
The BACP, which represents counsellors and psychotherapists, surveyed 5,333 adults aged 16 and over between February 9 and 22 this year. Of those who said their mental health had suffered as a result of the pandemic, 50% cited anxiety or concern about friends and family catching Covid-19 as one of the main impacts, while 39% were worried about becoming infected themselves. Two in five said they experience social anxiety, while a third mention financial worries.
Amongst respondents as a whole, 19% said their mental health was poor.
Vanlint told the newspaper that anxiety was a natural reaction to the pandemic: “The survey shows how the pandemic has led to an increase in different forms of anxiety that are still playing out now. People can’t just magically bounce back from a trauma experience. Our nervous system is constantly looking for safety and social connection.”
She added that in some people the threat of the pandemic activated the fight or flight response, which in turn led to anxiety.
Vanlint suggested that the best way to ease feelings of anxiety was to stimulate the vagus nerve, which consists of thousands of fibres that run from the brain to the abdomen, relaying information between the brain and the body’s organs. “Ways of doing this include meditation, breathing exercises, cold water exposure, humming, chewing gum, gargling and singing,” Vanlint told the newspaper. She also suggested seeking help from a qualified therapist: “Therapists can help clients examine and overcome the root of their anxiety, allowing them to break out of cycles of negative patterns of thought or behaviour.”
It’s a view supported by the BACP survey, which found that 62% said counselling and psychotherapy had become more important to society since the beginning of the pandemic, and 60% saying the government should invest more money in mental health services.
It is still difficult to make an accurate assessment of the long-term mental health impacts of the pandemic. The BMJ research, which reviewed 137 studies in a number of different countries, found that the pandemic resulted in “minimal” changes in mental health symptoms among the general population. The authors pointed out that there had been no increase in suicide rates during the pandemic, and added that some of the public public narrative about the mental health effects of Covid-19 had been based on “poor-quality studies and anecdotes.”
In 2020, however, some mental health experts said that a “sizeable minority” of people might experience long-term mental health problems as a consequence of the pandemic.
The findings of the survey appear to contradict the review of research published earlier this month in the BMJ. The review, however, covered 13 studies in many countries, which might have served to flatten out important differences. Studies on a topic as subjective as mental health can also be hampered by variations in the way a question is asked. “Anxiety” can be a debilitating mental health condition, but it can also refer to a relatively minor tendency to worry. It may be that we have to wait a few years to understand fully whether Covid-19 has had a serious and ongoing impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.