William Eichler 25 July 2022

‘Parallel pandemic’ of mental ill health cost North £2bn

‘Parallel pandemic’ of mental ill health cost North £2bn image
Image: Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock.com.

The number of mental ill health cases in the North of England were much higher during the pandemic than in any other part of the country and led to £2bn in lost economic productivity.

A report out today by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) and northern National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaborations (NIHR ARCs) has warned that the North experienced a ‘parallel pandemic’ of mental ill health during the pandemic.

The research found that people in the North under 35 were more likely to have developed a psychiatric disorder over the course of the pandemic. Cases of people with psychiatric disorders increased by 2.5% in the North compared to a reduction of 1.3% in the rest of England.

There was also a 12% increase in the numbers of anti-depressants prescribed during the pandemic in the North, and northerners were prescribed more anti-depressants proportionately than anyone in the rest of England (5.3 compared to 4.3).

Before the pandemic, people from ethnic minorities and those from a white British background had similar mental health scores. Over the pandemic people from ethnic minorities had a larger fall in their average mental health (1.63 points compared to 0.87) and this was greater for those of an ethnic minority in the North (a fall of 2.34 compared to 1.45 for the rest of England).

Women from ethnic minorities in the North had the worst mental health in the country. Their mental health scores fell by 10% at the start of the pandemic and their scores were 4% lower throughout the pandemic.

The report estimates the reductions in mental health in the North during the two years of the pandemic have cost the UK economy £2bn in lost economic productivity.

Report co-author Clare Bambra, professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, said: ‘These findings reiterate that the pandemic has been very unequal. People in our most deprived communities have suffered most, in terms of death rates, dying younger and in on going ill-health such as long covid. These health inequalities reflect long-term inequalities in the social determinants of health, how we live, work and age.’

Dr Luke Munford, senior lecturer in Health Economics at the University of Manchester and NIHR ARC Greater Manchester, who also co-authored the report, said: ‘Our mental health is important for us as individuals but is also important to our society. We have shown, again, that the pandemic was not equal – people in the North of England fared worse. We need to act urgently to address this or these unfair inequalities will grow and as already hard hit individuals and us as a society will unfairly suffer.’

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