An interesting article published in medRxiv January 2020 looked at the evidence as a preprint to determine the rates and predictors of uptake of formal and informal mental health support. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a great strain on people’s mental health.  A growing number of studies have shown worsening mental health measures globally during the pandemic.  However, there is lack of any empirical study on how people have supported their mental health during this pandemic.  This study aimed to examine a number of formal and informal mental health support groups.  It also explored factors that might be associated with the use of different types of mental health support.  

  • 26,740 adults in the UCL COVID-19 social study were analysed between 13 April and 3 July 2020.  
  • 45% of people reported talking to friends or family members to support their mental health.
  • 43% engaged in self-care activities.
  • 20% took medication.
  • 9% spoke to mental health professionals.
  • 8% talked to a GP or another health professional.
  • 8% used help lines or online services.

Gender, education, living status, loneliness, pre-existing mental health conditions, general depression and anxiety, coping and personality were found to be associated with the use of mental health support groups.  

This preprint concluded that while the negative impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic were inevitable, people can play an active role in managing their own mental health.

Understanding the patterns and predictors of various kinds of mental health support during the pandemic is crucial to the future planning of services and delivery through recognising potential barriers to mental healthcare faced by certain groups.  The results showed the following:

1. Social factors: People who lived alone had higher odds of talking to mental health professionals, engaging in self-care activities or talking to family and friends than those who lived with others.

2. Mental health: People with pre-existing mental health diagnoses were more likely to use all approaches to support their mental health.  In particular, the odds of taking medication for someone with a mental health diagnosis was nearly 25 times higher than those without a diagnosis.

3. Psychological factors: People with a problem focused coping strategy were more likely to engage in self-care activity, whereas those with an avoidant coping strategy were more likely to take medication.  Those with an emotion focused coping strategy were more likely to support their mental health through medication.  

A socially supportive coping strategy was positively associated with all types of mental health support, in particular talking to family or friends.  Interestingly, people with high levels of agreeableness and neuroticism were more likely to seek mental health support through helplines/online services.  People who were more open to experiences or extroverted were more likely to seek support from family or friends. 

A number of types of mental health were accessed.  People aged 60 or over took fewer approaches to support their mental health compared with younger adults.  

In contrast, females, people with higher educational levels, those who lived alone, those with a higher level of loneliness, depression and anxiety and people with pre-existing mental health diagnoses used more approaches to support their mental health.

In addition, people with various coping strategies and those with higher levels of openness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism also used more types of mental health support. 

4. Finally, ethnicity, employment status, household income, living area, social network and level of consciousness were not related to the number or types of mental health support groups access.  

The London General Practice is aware that there has been an increase in poor mental health within all groups of society and encourages anyone feeling or suffering should seek appropriate medical intervention as soon as possible.

Dr Paul Ettlinger

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