Tracking mental health during pandemic

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Britons’ mental health to be tracked throughout coronavirus pandemic.

People are being encouraged to look after their mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic, with the unprecedented situation likely to “present new and difficult challenges”, Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries has warned.

The Mental Health Foundation has teamed up with academic institutions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – including the Institute of Public Health at Cambridge University – to track the psychological wellbeing of the nation as the pandemic plays out.

The mental health charity will conduct monthly polls of Britons so that emerging mental health problems are spotted early on and interventions put in place, the Guardian reports.

The projection follows newly published guidelines from Public Health England (PHE) on how people can manage their stress and anxiety during the outbreak.

Dorries, who was herself diagnosed with Covid-19 in March, said when she discovered she had the virus she "felt anxious and scared".

"For those who already suffer with anxiety or other mental health issues this may present new and difficult challenges," she said.

However, it’s not only those who are suffering with the virus who could struggle with their mental health – living in lockdown is an alien concept for everyone and could pose all sorts of problems.

PHE’s advice, which has met support from The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, includes maintaining contact with friends and family with regular phone or video calls, keeping to a regular routine and sleep pattern, and focusing on a hobby.

Prince William and Catherine said: “We have to take time to support each other and find ways to look after our mental health. By pulling together and taking simple steps each day, we can all be better prepared for the times ahead.”

Spotting signs of distress

Nearly two-thirds of adults said they felt anxious or worried about the outbreak, according to a YouGov study commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation. Going forward, the charity will survey the public to determine whether the most worrisome issues are debt, job insecurity, home life, concerns about contracting the virus or having loved ones infected, or other issues.

It’s also hoped the poll will reveal what positive interactions – such as social media groups, video chats and help from local groups – are helping people to cope in the circumstances, and whether there is a parallel increase in drinking and drug taking.

Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, suggested it was inevitable that some adults – particularly those who are working from home or looking after patients – will lean harder on “physical and mental health damaging behaviours” such as drinking, smoking and taking drugs.

“We need to pay much more attention to this and offer practical advice and support in the weeks ahead,” she stressed.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has issued specific advice for organisations allowing their workforce to work from home, which include:

  • Passwords should be as strong as possible and adhere to two-factor authentication where possible.
  • Consider creating some simple How To guides to solve simple tech support issues or to help set up extra software staff might need.
  • Ensure any devices encrypt data while they’re not being used to limit the risk if equipment is lost or stolen, and make sure all staff know how to report any issues, particularly if they’re related to security.

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