A report out today by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA), with the northern National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaborations (NIHR ARCs), shows that a parallel pandemic of mental ill health has hit the North of England with a £2bn cost to the country at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental health in England was hit badly over the course of the pandemic. But people in the North performed significantly worse in their mental health outcomes compared to those in the rest of the country.
- People in the North under 35 were more likely to have developed a psychiatric disorder over the course of the pandemic, an increase of 5% compared to a reduction of 1.3% in rest of England.
- There was a 12% increase in the numbers of anti-depressants prescribed during the pandemic in the North. During the pandemic, people living in the North were prescribed more anti-depressants proportionately than those in the rest of England (5.3 compared to 4.3).
- Before the-pandemic, people from ethnic minorities and those from a white British background had similar mental health scores, Over the pandemic people from ethnic minorities had a larger fall in their average mental health (63 points compared to 0.87) and this was greater for those of an ethnic minority in the North (a fall of 2.34 compared to 1.45 for the rest of England).
- Women from ethnic minorities in the North had the worst mental health in the country. Their mental health scores fell by 10% at the start of the pandemic and their scores were 4% lower throughout the pandemic.
- Mental health fell equally in the North and the rest of the country during the pandemic (5% decrease), but it recovered more quickly in the rest of the country (to 3% decrease) than in the North (2% decrease).
- The report conservatively estimates the reductions in mental health in the North during the two years of the pandemic have cost the UK economy £2bn in lost economic productivity. This is £2bn more which has been lost than if the North had suffered the same mental health outcomes as the rest of the country.
- The gap between the lowest and highest earners increased during the pandemic and remains large.
Report co-author Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, said: “These findings reiterate that the pandemic has been very unequal. People in our most deprived communities have suffered most, in terms of death rates, dying younger and in on going ill-health such as long covid. These health inequalities reflect long-term inequalities in the social determinants of health, how we live, work and age.”
Dr Luke Munford, Senior Lecturer in Health Economics at the University of Manchester, who also co-authored the report, said: “Our mental health is important for us as individuals but is also important to our society. We have shown, again, that the pandemic was not equal – people in the North of England fared worse. We need to act urgently to address this or these unfair inequalities will grow and as already hard hit individuals and us as a society will unfairly suffer.”
The report urges that more needs to be done to address inequalities in mental health in the North, if ‘levelling up’ is to be achieved.
Among its key recommendations, the report’s authors are calling for an increase in NHS and local authority resources and service provision for mental health in the North, along with an increase to the existing NHS health inequalities weighting within the NHS funding formula.
Hannah Davies, Health Inequalities Lead at the NHSA and report co-author, said: “Increased deprivation in the North of England has added to a decline in mental health in the North of England over the course of the pandemic.
“The reasons for this are many: increased time spent in lockdowns, the type of work people in the North do but the driving factor is poverty.
“To reverse these outcomes immediate action should be taken to provide funds to mental health suppliers proportionate to the need in those areas and measure to reduce deprivation – particularly as the cost of living crisis tightens its grip further on the most vulnerable.”
The report is backed by the NHSA’s mental health trust members: Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust and Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust.
Kathryn Singh, Chief Executive of RDaSH, said: “Our work at RDaSH is rooted in our communities and our teams have huge experience of how much impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health of those communities – the parallel pandemic. Our experience on the ground is very much borne out by the findings of report, where levels of deprivation were already high, and where the pandemic has exacerbated all the trends that were already in place.
“But I think we are in a good position to support the vital recommendations of this report, and I’m hopeful we can play our part in the innovation and vital investment needed into mental health in communities across the North, so that they can play their full part in the UK’s economy.”
Brent Kilmurray, Chief Executive of TEWV, said: “During the pandemic we saw not only an increase in demand for our services, but an increase in acuity – with people presenting to us with more severe mental health conditions.
“We provide services in some areas of very high deprivation, and we’re working with partners from all sectors across our region to find new ways to support these communities with their mental health. Community mental health transformation is hugely important and will help to provide more joined-up care, taking a person-centred approach to find new ways to support people with mental health issues.
“We know the impact that COVID-19 has had on people’s mental health and if you feel your mental health is being affected, please seek help and support as soon as possible.”
The NHSA convenes the Northern Mental Health Innovation Network, which brings together world class clinical, academic and industry experts across the North of England and showcases the North’s excellence in the field of mental health.
Read a copy the ‘Parallel Pandemic’ report here.
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