Support structure destabilized by the pandemic for people with mental health problems


Researchers have shown how people with long-term mental health issues experienced threats that damaged or removed their support structures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the small study, published in the Community Mental Health Journal researchers from the University of Huddersfield set out to explore the impact of pandemic restrictions on the experience and challenges of people living with long-term mental health issues who, before the pandemic, had accessed support from third sector community psychosocial service providers. Support.

The authors explained how their research focused on participants’ experiences of confinement and periods of reduced social contact, with particular attention given to the impact of the pandemic on recovery and how participants managed their mental health issues.

“The often asked question was ‘Is the pandemic making people more depressed or anxious? “, said Dr Dawn Leeming from the Department of Psychology, School of Humanities and Health Sciences, University of Huddersfield. “We were more interested in people who were already depressed or anxious and used to access services community.”

She explained how she and her colleagues weren’t necessarily thinking about the availability of psychiatric services, crisis services or therapy when moved online, but were more interested in services that help people maintain stability in their life, a routine and relationships. with other people.

Pandemic restrictions threaten mental well-being

The authors commented on how “prolonged periods of enforced isolation have been shown to have a significant impact on mental health in previous pandemics.” They explained how the current pandemic has also brought other challenges known to impact mental health, including unemployment, job stress, financial strains, relationship discord, serious and chronic illnesses, and related anxieties. to health.

Their new research involved semi-structured telephone interviews with 15 people (11 women and 4 men) who all had or were recovering from mental health conditions and who had received support from a community-based mental health agency. The participants were on average 54 years old (45-65 years old), of white British nationality and from West Yorkshire. All had mental health issues for at least 2 years, with most struggling for several years.

Their findings suggest that study participants experienced significant threats to their mental well-being and recovery due to the pandemic and related restrictions.

“These threats have been exacerbated by current or past situations of powerlessness and inequality,” the authors said. However, they continued, “many participants were remarkably resilient and resourceful, drawing on their past experience to actively manage mental well-being, although sometimes self-soothing involved a return to behaviors that had contributed to mental well-being. initial difficulties.

The sons of separate recovery

Researchers have found that the pandemic could exacerbate inequalities in employment, education and housing for people with long-term mental health issues.

The lockdowns had widespread effects and threatened how participants dealt with their mental health issues and tried to stay healthy, the authors said. Specifically, they found that lockdowns and measures to limit the spread of the virus took away vital communications and support for people struggling with long-term mental health issues.

“One participant referred to the ‘threats’ of recovery being shattered by the pandemic. It was a meta-threat, not only challenging but actually destabilizing,” Dr Leeming said. She clarified that some participants already had a recovery structure and had learned to manage their difficulties, but that “everything was threatened by COVID”.

COVID presented as a threat, the authors said, “as understood by the concept of ‘power, threat, meaning’ – the idea that what is often seen as a mental health disorder is actually a response to the threat”.

“Threats often come through the negative workings of power, in relation to economic inequality, social strata, physical disability and various other ways people might be disempowered,” Dr Leeming said. If people feel they have limited control, they are much more likely to experience mental health issues.

“What is seen as a symptom of disease is often an attempt to survive in the face of a threat.”

The authors acknowledged some limitations of their study. As the sample was limited to one local authority area, the sample was small and undiversified, and the difficult pandemic-related circumstances made it difficult to engage other organizations.

People’s vulnerabilities are often misinterpreted as “they’re sick,” the authors said.

“That’s not entirely true – the vulnerability may be that they are part of marginalized groups, who experience inequality, and their structure of recovery has been swept away by the pandemic.”


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