We argue that predictions of a ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems as a consequence of the pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the lockdown are overstated; feelings of anxiety and sadness are entirely normal reactions to difficult circumstances, not symptoms of poor mental health. Some people will need specialised mental health support, especially those already leading tough lives; we need immediate reversal of years of underfunding of community mental health services. However, the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on the most disadvantaged, especially BAME people placed at risk by their social and economic conditions, were entirely predictable. Mental health is best ensured by urgently rebuilding the social and economic supports stripped away over the last decade. Governments must pump funds into local authorities to rebuild community services, peer support, mutual aid and local community and voluntary sector organisations. Health care organisations must tackle racism and discrimination to ensure genuine equal access to universal health care. Government must replace highly conditional benefit systems by something like a universal basic income. All economic and social policies must be subjected to a legally binding mental health audit. This may sound unfeasibly expensive, but the social and economic costs, not to mention the costs in personal and community suffering, though often invisible, are far greater.


Copyright: © 2020 Rose N et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cite as

Rose, N., Manning, N., Bentall, R., Bhui, K., Burgess, R., Carr, S., Cornish, F., Devakumar, D., Dowd, J., Ecks, S., Faulkner, A., Ruck Keene, A., Kirkbride, J., Knapp, M., Lovell, A., Martin, P., Moncrieff, J., Parr, H., Pickersgill, M., Richardson, G. & Sheard, S. 2020, 'The social underpinnings of mental distress in the time of COVID-19 - time for urgent action [version 1; peer review: 4 approved]', Wellcome Open Research, 5(166). https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16123.1

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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