Living through a mental health pandemic: exploring tools and solutions with Dr Hana Patel

Little has been said about the current mental health pandemic we are living through today. In comparison to the panic of years prior, I don’t see the world stopping as a result of declining mental health, or the consequential injuries and deaths that come as a result. Let me explain. You see, research from World Health Originisation shows that people with severe mental health challenges die prematurely, and a rise in suicides – which come as a result of declining mental health – are the fourth leading cause of death amongst adolescents under the age of 29.

A recent article from Forbes reported that depressive and anxiety disorders have grown by 28% since COVID 19, affecting 25% more people worldwide. Now, if you still need convincing that this is a pandemic, lets look at the numbers. Up to 374 million people are affected around the world with mental illness, and the numbers are still rising daily.

Although we may not see the shocking headlines directly laying out the rising death toll of suicides, or premature deaths, the fact that you can’t actually see someone suffering with a mental illness at first glance, in my eyes, makes this pandemic even more serious and worrying. It’s silent, and probably affects more people around you than they care to share.

Over the years, an increase of casual discussion around anxiety and depression online have been dare I say a progressive movement towards change. In fact, I would actually go as far as saying that thanks to social media bringing these topics to the forefront, with hashtags like #MentalHealthAwareness and #Endthestigma, slowly but surely we are seeing the discussion become less taboo. Those who have been suffering in silence were coming to the forefront, admitting they had been suffering for years, and all of a sudden it felt like this universal breathe of fresh air was exhaled from nations across the world. People from every facet of life; CEO’s, students, parents, influencers alike all came forward to share they were suffering mentally.

Even I was dealing with my own symptoms of anxiety during the pandemic, and although I am no stranger to mental health, the feeling of speaking out about this and sharing at a time of mass turmoil wasn’t easy. Especially when my anxiety showed up like an unexpected guest at a party, although I didn’t want to be rude and ask them to leave, I also questioned how they actually got there.

There have been many links made with the COVID 19 pandemic and the current rise in mental illnesses, but I wanted to find out for myself how this showed up in the medical field. I reached out to Dr Hana Patel, NHS GP and GP Medico-Legal Expert Witness who discussed with us the links between the covid pandemic and mental health.

She said, “Sadly the number of patients I see with mental health issues has increased since the Covid pandemic. Research found that those who were more likely to struggle with their mental health before the pandemic were most affected by coronavirus. Also people who contract COVID,  may experience a number of symptoms related to brain and mental health, including; cognitive and attention deficits (brain fog) anxiety and depression.” She also told us that NHS evidence also points towards an increase in the severity of mental health problems linked to the pandemic. Most clinicians reported a steep post-pandemic increase in the severity of the mental health needs of patients, especially in children and young people.

The question for me would then be why now? Why are so many people suffering at this time?

As we have discussed, there are many of us watching people finding their voice and feeling safe enough to speak out if they need help, but I do wonder how this trickles down to young people? We are still living in a time of mass censorship and cancel culture, and it does seem that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can leave you on the outs of society looking for a way back in. For young people, especially those who are showing up with increasingly severe mental illness – according to Dr Patel, I wonder if this environment of censorship is shutting down their ability to experience their full spectrum of emotion?

I presented this question to Dr Patel, she said, “The BMA reported that for children and young people, the latest evidence suggests that rates of mental illness may be growing at a faster rates than amongst adults. Between 2017 and 2022, rates of probable mental disorder increased from around 1 in 8 young people aged 7-16 to more than 1 in 6. There was also research that showed that around a third of adults and young people said their mental health has got much worse since March 2020.”

However, she believes as a society we allow people to express their emotions fully citing the use of social media platforms and the like, which led me to question, what happens when people don’t express their full spectrum of emotions. What happens and how does this show up?

“If people try and suppress emotions there is a danger that they may become overwhelmed and react in a negative or dangerous manner. Sometimes an outburst can hurt other people or ourselves. The key is to learn how to express how we feel in a healthy, safe manner. Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing. This can lead to someone becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing activities they used to enjoy.” she said.

Finding ways to navigate and express emotions can be hard without the right tools. So here are a few solutions and tools you can use according to Dr Patel to navigate these emotions.

She said, “There are many things that we can do to be more proactive and in tune with our mental health. Getting closer to nature can improve our mental health, as can learning to understand and manage your feelings. I would recommend talking to someone you trust for support, and even better, to try and seek advice and help from your NHS GP for counselling or talking therapy, or psychological therapies. I always ask patients who come and see me with mental health issues, and check in with their  awareness of using drugs and/or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings, as it is common for people to drink more alcohol or smoke more if they are feeling low in their mood. With the cost of living crisis, I would encourage people to try to make the most of their money and get help with debt problems. And finally to look at our sleep, and speak to your GP about your sleep hygiene and health.”

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  • Lisa Hanley

    Lisa Hanley is both the Founder and Editor of Ankha Azzura Magazine, a media platform that blends her passion in wellness, science, and holistic living. Having spent over a decade working in media, beginning with local radio and print and later transitioning to producing and luxury travel writing, Lisa established Ankha Global in 2022. She attended three universities in the UK to study Journalism and Media studies and currently resides in London with her partner.

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