OPINION: Will mental health be the next pandemic? - Sophei Mei Lan

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I think we will all feel a sense of relief that this traumatic year is over.

While we get ready to embark on another journey into the unknown, my main wish is for mental health care to be more accessible, available and to have more funding for a holistic approach to health.

It’s great to see so much more conversation around mental health and wellbeing and actually talking issues rather than merely avoiding, although I think we have all had to try and escape some of the pressures of 2020.

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But at some point, we will have to tackle the impact on the country’s mental health and our own situations, and sooner rather than later.

As psychologist Dr Marianne Trent told me: “I often hear people talking about doing things to ‘distract’ them from their struggles. However, what I help people to do is quite the opposite – I help them learn to be able to tolerate their distress rather than turn away from it.

“It’s so important in order to begin to overcome mental health difficulties and to increase self-compassion.”

Yet, mental health is still a Cinderella service and we cannot wait for a fairy to wave her magic wand for a transformation, as we need holistic health help more than ever.

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After years of my own mental health care being subject to funding restrictions and a postcode lottery, I know how damaging it is physically and mentally when you finally seek the help you need and it isn’t there.

As I work my way through my studies on mental health, most of the triggers or causes for a variety of mental health problems which I am listing have been prevalent this year, from unemployment to bereavement to domestic violence, changing circumstances and physically ill health.

I have always said our mental health should be treated as integral to our health and wellbeing but actually now we need it to be of paramount importance, with 4.2 million people across the UK now regularly feeling isolated and alone as a result of the pandemic.

Alcoholism is up, eating disorders on the rise and even those without prior mental health problems have reported feeling more stress, anxiety and low mood.

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That’s not to mention the impact of long Covid as a chronic illness with reports of neurological implications.

And each individual situation is further amplified by the ongoing restrictions and ‘normal’ life challenges that 2020 has thrown at us.

I am beyond grateful for the incredible volunteers, care workers, NHS staff, good samaritans and wellbeing professionals who have injected as much as they can into our survival as a country, but now we need more funding and support as we cannot get away with merely applauding them through another year.

We have a new pandemic on the horizon which is already brewing up... a country riddled by mental health problems.

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There is no fairy tale ending to this situation but I do have faith that we can learn from our past mistakes and, as we enter a new year, we really can pull together to support every individual in our community.

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