COVID-19 has held the headlines in a vice-like grip since it hit our country earlier this year. It isn’t hard to see why, with all of the financial and health related threats it poses. Every day the media announces an increase in cases and fatalities attributed to the virus, as scientists and politicians worldwide flood our screens with bleak forecasts of its growth. With such an all-encompassing focus, however, a second silent killer has been claiming lives by the thousands: waning mental health. As COVID cases rise, we should be wary of the landslide of mental struggles it continues to bring about.

This year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a distressing document into the severity of suicide cases. According to this document, 2019 saw cases of suicide hit a two-decade high- the most since 2000. Around three quarters of this total constitute men (4,303 of 5,691 suicides). Realistically, this issue has only worsened, with a staggering number of male suicides recorded the year before. In fact, 2018 brought a harrowing change in the trend with 6,507 suicides recorded in the UK. It was the first year since 2013 that the rate of suicide had increased overall and it hasn’t dropped since. The ONS highlighted that men in the range of 45 to 49 were most at risk (with 25.5 deaths per every 100,000). This increase doesn’t stop with men, however, as the suicide rate of women in the 10 to 24-year-old bracket has also dramatically risen since 2012.

These statistics are impossible to ignore, proving unequivocally that our nation is facing a mental health battle, one that is only growing in scale. If, somehow, you’re still convinced that this issue isn’t worth prioritising, a study by mental health charity Samaritans identified suicide as the biggest killer of people under 45 in our country. This alone speaks volumes.

The most troubling roadblock in treating depression is that it is a personal struggle, intertwining itself with the specific thoughts and feelings an individual experiences. What works for one person may not work for another. One study by the British Medical Journal, for instance, found that antidepressants could potentially “double” the occurrence of events defined as possible precursors to suicide.

For suicide rates pertaining to sex, antiquated stigmas of male masculinity are the main culprits. YouGov released a telling study (consisting of over 2,500 individuals) commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, in it, 28% of men revealed they had not pursued medical help for the last mental health related issue (when compared to 18% of women.)  The results from this study also assert that men are less likely to reach out to friends and family.

Throughout history, men have been stereotyped as stoical, encouraged to push through their problems, immune from the impact of mental deterioration. This image needs to be eradicated and replaced with an honest, human perspective on male mental health. We have the research to prove the disproportionate deaths, so why would we still expect men to uphold unrealistic standards? Slowly, the stigma is changing, (for example, the annual event Movember which aims to change this societal perception of men’s health) but now the shadow of COVID-19 leaves these vulnerable men and women alike in serious danger.

Since COVID-19 swept the globe, a new study has emerged from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study, conducted from June to August this year, gathered data from 130 countries across WHO’s six regions. It concluded that 93% of countries worldwide have had “critical mental health services” impaired by the virus. What’s more, 89% of the countries in the report have cited mental health support as part of their COVID response plans, yet only 17% have additional funding for it. This is bad enough, but a previous WHO study found that countries were spending less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health. This was before the pandemic started. 

This number is staggering, given that COVID-19 has brought social, financial and personal insecurity to a fever pitch, it is simply not enough. Consider what this period brings- fear for vulnerable family members, an increase in bereavements as a result of the virus, inescapable abusive relationships, alcoholic and drug abuse as coping mechanisms, just to name a few. For many the prospect of isolating alone is too much to bear, leaving a sufferer alone with their thoughts is the worst thing that could happen. As the days continue to shorten, illnesses become common and the weather becomes harsher, so many will fall prey to a combination of fear, flu and stagnation.

Not everyone is content to accept the increasing governmental lockdown measures, however. Take for instance Andy Preston, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, who was vocal in his objection of local lockdown demands this month. He publicly criticised the government’s lack of communication with him and asserted that the rules had gone way too far. He brought attention to Middlesbrough’s pre-existing mental health crisis and emphasised that mental and physical health are integral facets of a healthy life that cannot be taken lightly. He continues to reiterate, however, that he will follow the law and will not underestimate the virus.

Samaritans have revealed on their website that in the three months of the first lockdown, callers with mental health concerns were twice as likely to express suicidal thoughts compared to others (34% vs 17). For many, the charity says, coping mechanisms of socialisation and fitness were the only factors in maintaining their mental health. Check on those at risk over this period and look out for our next blog- 100 Things you can do to keep physically and mentally fit this winter.

 No matter how bad you might feel this winter, there are people who you can talk to without judgement for free:

Samaritans FREE mental health helpline: 116 123 (Line open 24 hours a day)

CALM FREE mental health helpline: 0800 58 58 58 (5PM- Midnight)

The importance of physical wellbeing cannot be understated in a lockdown environment and if a second one does arrive, Gymbeing will still be committed to providing you with the equipment you need to find vital escapism through fitness.