One of the main strategies to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is the widespread use of social distancing measures, which has forced periods of prolonged isolation for many people around the world. This has caused widespread psychological distress, that is unlikely to resolve immediately with the lifting of restrictions. Practical factors, such as the loss of jobs, as well as psychological factors, such as the spiralling trap of anxious and depressive rumination, are likely to ensure that these problems persist, and could well constitute the first wave of a mental health pandemic that will replace COVID-19.
This is a narrative that has been playing out, albeit at a slightly slower pace, for the past several decades, with a slow steady decline in human connectivity mirroring an increase in objective measures of psychological distress such as suicide rates and the diagnosis of mental health conditions.
These very real increases in social isolation and psychological distress that have been developing insidiously in recent decades constitute very concrete problems. Even without considering the harder to quantify human costs; there are very real social and economic costs, including reduced productivity, increased healthcare expenditure, and increased demand on the social safety net. These factors will be even more relevant in the post-COVID world, where the isolation will have been prolonged and extreme.
For many people, mental wellbeing represents something over which they do not realise they have control. It is viewed as something predetermined and unchangeable. This is reflected in the attitude of elected bodies towards the psychological wellbeing of the populations for whom they are responsible, whose primary strategy in the management of mental health concerns constitutes the promotion of the passive consumption of medication. There are however very concrete steps that can and should be taken to reverse what may well become just
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