Covid-19: The Mental Health Cost

As the Covid-19 crisis has developed, we have learned a great deal about the physical impact of this new illness. But the threat to mental health may also be very significant. Recent reports from Public Health England and the Health Foundation have identified a number of repercussions both for sufferers and the wider population.

For sufferers, the mental and physical toll of contracting and recovering from such a distressing illness can result in a variety of negative outcomes. According to an Italian study published in August, 55% of the 402 patients participating were observed to be suffering a mental health condition, with PTSD, anxiety, depression and even symptoms of OCD scoring highly. The causes of these effects could be both social and physiological, according to the study’s authors, who cited physical inflammation as well as isolation, fear of infecting others, social stigma and mental trauma as potential contributing factors.

In more extreme cases, Covid-19 sufferers have even reported experiencing hallucinations and panic attacks. In light of these lingering effects and the pressures associated with lockdown, calls are being made for employers to respond with care when dealing with employee sufferers, with one researcher calling on employers ‘to show flexibility in helping Covid survivors return to work,’ according to a report in the Guardian.

The mental health costs of the illness are not limited to those incurred by sufferers, however. Fears regarding the illness, grief over lost loved ones and anxiety stemming from the economic crisis are also contributing to an increase in the rate of psychiatric disorders. Public Health England’s September 8 report states that ‘mental distress… was 8.1% higher in April 2020 than it was between 2017 and 2019’, and that ‘over 30% of adults reported levels of mental distress indicative that treatment may be needed, compared to around 20% between 2017 and 2019.’

The report goes on to stress that the pandemic ‘has had a larger adverse impact on the mental health and wellbeing of some groups than others’, identifying young people and women as particularly vulnerable.

This supports the findings of the Health Foundation’s August 30 publication ‘Generation COVID-19’, which reported ‘young people aged 12–24 years are one of the worst-affected groups, particularly in terms of the labour market and mental health outcomes.’ A significantly higher number of young people reported struggling to concentrate, not being able to enjoy day-to-day activities, feeling unhappy and depressed and not feeling useful in comparison to 2017/18 figures.

Taking these phenomena into account, it is more important than ever that the logistics sector pays heed to the mental health needs of all colleagues. In 2019, logistics was identified by Dr Sheena Johnson, occupational psychologist at Alliance Manchester Business School as ‘one of the sectors exposed to the effects of poor mental health.’ The potential for exposure is only increasing under the prolonged stress of the pandemic. Possible suggestions for addressing this stress may come from the 2019 Alliance MBS guidelines for managing the health of logistics sector workers, which include monitoring health, offering access to healthy food and increasing flexibility over work hours.


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