The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns have placed the entire country under an enormous amount of stress, and the mental health effects are beginning to show. Whilst the lingering psychological effects of Covid-19 are complex, and still emerging, the data coming to the fore already paints a bleak picture. Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that numbers of British adults suffering depression have doubled during the pandemic, with almost 1 in 5 people experiencing symptoms in June, double that of the previous year.
Mental health issues fuel addiction tendencies
Addiction services in particular are stretched due to Covid-19, as they try to cope with soaring numbers of drug and alcohol misuse. The Providence Projects, based on England’s southern coast in Bournemouth and one of the UK’s leading drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, has received 80% more enquiries since June 2020, compared to the same period the previous year.
Paul Spanjar, leading addiction expert and CEO at the Providence Projects, describes the significant spike in demand for detox and rehabilitation: “Covid-19 is a major global health crisis, and one with serious effects on mental as well as physical health. We have seen the combination of social isolation and a lack of human connection drive many to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Numbers of people seeking treatment have risen sharply since June, with addiction rates soaring by 30%; and many of these dependent alcoholics were only social drinkers earlier this year. The severity of the pandemic and lockdown on our mental health cannot be underestimated.”
Digital connection in local lockdowns
Increased levels of anxiety and fear, coupled with a tendency to abuse substances, is a recipe for disaster for many addicts and alcoholics. With reduced access to addiction services and restrictions on consultations and therapy, the current climate is set to significantly increase rates of addiction. The Providence Projects spoke to an ex-client, Leo Hayden, who completed rehab in 2018. Leo discussed digital connection as an invaluable tool to combat the loneliness of lockdown, and how recovery meetings via online platforms such as Zoom have and continue to help him cope with the temptation to drink alcohol.
“By focussing on my recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) via Zoom meetings I was able to cope during lockdown. The biggest struggle was not seeing my friends, but at least this way I could speak to fellow alcoholics.” He also highlights the benefits of practicing acceptance at a time when so many people feel out of control: “I feel that, alcoholic or not, we are all facing significant life changes, and for me that means accepting these changes, as I did when I found my way into AA with the great help of everyone at the Providence Projects, to whom I am eternally grateful.”
Human interaction for recovery
Whilst digital connection is, for many people, their only substitute, it is well known that the key to lasting recovery and sobriety is human interaction, building meaningful relationships, and connecting with other addicts and alcoholics. Paul Spanjar, CEO at the Providence Projects, concludes: “The untreated psychological problems so many are experiencing could lead to a tsunami of mental illness. As we emerge from lockdown and adjust to greater levels of freedom in our daily lives, returning to work and school and getting used to the “new normal”, I would encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to reach out and seek help. As the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 continues, it is vital that the Government prioritises access to mental health services, so that the most vulnerable sections of society can receive the treatment and support they need. At the Providence Projects, we have a team of highly trained counsellors, therapists, doctors, alternative therapists and support workers that combine to ensure that every client is given the best opportunity at recovery.”
Who’s been hit hardest?
The Providence Projects has also found a major area of concern to be the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the mental health of certain socio-economic groups, and the lack of access to mental health services for those in need. Poor mental health is often associated with difficult social and economic circumstances, such as unemployment, low-quality housing and living in poverty. Yet the coronavirus has only driven a greater wedge between rich and poor, and highlighted the disproportionate impact of the virus on the most vulnerable sections of society.
Young people as well as women have taken a much harder hit than older people or men. These groups also typically had worse mental health problems pre-pandemic. The mental health charity Mind found that two thirds of adults (65%) with prior experience of mental health problems saw a significant decline in mental wellbeing, and in the 18-24 age bracket, this figure rose to three-quarters (75%).
There are a few mental health disorders that repeatedly present themselves alongside addiction. Often, these disorders are the underlying cause of an addiction. That’s why it’s important to never ignore the symptoms of a mental health or behavioural disorder when it comes to a person’s long-term addiction recovery plan.