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Mental health and substance use exacerbated by Covid 19 pandemic

The ongoing Covid 19 pandemic has had a significant effect on the mental health of the population and it looks like this is a continuing trend caused by the economic downturn. The World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe has said that ‘Economic crises are times of high risk to the mental well-being of the population’. Stresses included lack of job security and control of finances, social isolation and many people feeling that they have lost their sense of purpose.

Also concerning is the ‘hidden’ harmful substance use. Pubs and bars have been shut for much of the past 15 months and it is believed that this has led to people buying large amounts of alcohol and consuming it at home, often on their own. Whilst alcohol can often make people feel relaxed when they first start drinking, it affects the neurotransmitters in the brain, which then leads to negative emotions such as anxiety, depression and agitation taking over and leading to a deterioration in mood and wellbeing. Additionally, if people use alcohol to self-medicate these symptoms, they can develop a tolerance to alcohol, meaning that they have to drink more in future for it to have the desired effect. Dependency on alcohol is often a major consequence of these actions.

 

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Kavita Vedhara and her colleagues have found that younger people, females and those in the clinically vulnerable groups are more likely to experience a deterioration in their mental health, reporting more than one comorbid condition. Whilst the reasons are not decisive to all these groups, suggestions include due to the social isolation from lockdowns, lack of routine such as the closure of schools, colleges and universities, these groups are overrepresented in industries forced to close including hospitality, non-essential retail and tourism meaning that they are at increased risk of being furloughed or made redundant if their employer falls into administration.

 

This is noticeable in Cumbria, as we have seen an increase in female callers to our helpline set up in the midst of the pandemic. The county is one of the most popular destinations in the country for tourists from both the UK and internationally, as well as day visitors, none of whom have been able to attend and leaving the tourism and hospitality industries suffering financially. Whilst restrictions continue to be eased, we are aware that many people in our communities might still be struggling and have not yet asked for help. We advise anyone who is concerned about alcohol and substance use, or that of a loved one to call our helpline to speak to one of our Recovery Coaches.

 

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