TIMES Radio Interview Paracelsus Recovery’s observations on the general mental health impact of Covid-19

Dr. Marta Ra speaking on times radio
Times Radio interview with Ayesha Hazarika

We are nearly a year into the global pandemic, and it is taking its toll on everyone’s mental health. At Paracelsus Recovery, we have seen a drastic increase in referrals for numerous problems. For instance, many of our clients are struggling with burnout, depression or substance abuse. But, we have also seen a spike in lesser-known issues. Gaming addiction in young people skyrocketed during the lockdowns, and boardroom-bullying is becoming pervasive.

In light of these growing challenges, it is more important than ever to break the mental health stigma and reach out for support if you are struggling.

Podcast version in the Paracelsus Recovery Soundcloud channel

Scroll down below to find a transcript of our CEO, Dr Marta Ra, explaining how we can combat these issues on Times Radio:

Q. What mental health impact are you seeing so far from coronavirus?

A. The pandemic is causing a ‘perfect storm’ of mental health problems. We would say it is the worst since World War Two and will significantly outlast the disease itself. Our clinicians have identified a profound and wide-ranging impact in a number of areas, including stress, anxiety, and depression, alcohol and substance addiction, CEO mental health, relationships, gaming addiction and bullying in the workplace.

Q. How is this manifesting itself?

A. We have seen dramatic increases in referrals in all these areas since national lockdowns began. This includes:

  • A fivefold increase in referrals for alcohol and substance misuse
  • A threefold increase in referrals for stress, anxiety and depression, with loneliness a major factor
  • A fivefold increase in referrals and calls from clients whose relationships are in trouble
  • A doubling in referrals for CEOs and other business leaders suffering from burnout thanks to the stress of keeping a business going through the pandemic
  • A threefold increase in referrals for executives being bullied in the boardroom, with working from home increasing the problem because cyberbullying is easier than doing it in person
  • A doubling in referrals for gaming addiction among young people, triggered by the stress and boredom of pandemic

Q. You’re a very exclusive clinic catering for a particular kind of wealthy client. Are they particularly affected or is this something being seen in the general population?

A. This is affecting everyone, in all walks of life. The pandemic is essentially a large-scale traumatic event. It has caused physical, emotional, and psychological distress, and not just for patients of the virus. In the UK, an analysis by the Office of National Statistics(ONS) found that the proportion of people reporting moderate to severe depressive symptoms has more than doubled during the pandemic, increasing from 9.7% to 19.2%.

Q. Are certain kinds of people more likely to be affected?

A. The evidence shows that younger people, aged 16–39 years, females, those unable to afford an unexpected expense or who are disabled are most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic. But we are also finding that CEOs who are responsible for people’s jobs and livelihoods, and are struggling to keep their firms going, are increasingly suffering from anxiety and burnout.

Q. Why is the pandemic having this effect?

At a very basic level, the fact we are threatened by a deadly disease is causing stress and anxiety to everyone, and the lockdowns in place around the world mean more people are faced with loneliness. But there are also unexpected effects of the pandemic that we had not expected to see, like a doubling in gaming addiction among young people who have not much else to do. They are just so bored that they’re gaming more than ever and becoming addicted.

As I have said, we already know that there is a higher rate of depressive disorders during the coronavirus pandemic. We have a situation where people don’t know what to expect from one day to the next and all the while there is a threat. That causes stress and anxiety which can end up in symptoms of depression.

A lot of people are very worried about the future of their companies or their jobs, and even whether they are going to be able to keep their homes. We know that people faced with those sorts of crises are at greater risk of suicide.

Q. Are people drinking more alcohol and abusing drugs more?

A. Yes, definitely. Many people, particularly middle class professionals and high net worth individuals with money to spare, have turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress and boredom of the pandemic. Paracelsus Recovery has seen a startling fivefold increase in such referrals since the pandemic began.

Figures from Public Health England (PHE) showed that more than a fifth of those in the highest socio-economic group admitted drinking excessively during the pandemic, up from 13.2 per cent in February.

Paracelsus Recovery has seen a fivefold increase in referrals for substance abuse.

People are opening a second bottle of wine with dinner or pouring another large gin and tonic because there is so little else to spend our money on.

Others are abusing drugs like cocaine and cannabis. Most of these people are continuing to function quite normally, but they are building up habits that cause significant damage to health and which they will find hard to break once lockdown is over.

Other people, like some of the clients we are seeing, really lose control of their drinking or substance abuse and need to seek urgent support.

Q. How are people’s relationships being affected?

A. This is really a mixed picture. Many people predicted an increase in divorce as a result of couples being cooped up together in lockdown, but that has not yet manifested itself. Some couples have clearly been brought closer together by the fact that they have had to spend so much more time together. But for others, it has brought them to crisis point. We have seen a fivefold increase in referrals and calls from clients whose relationships are in difficulty.

Q. You say you are seeing an impact on the mental health of CEOs. How is this manifesting itself and what is causing it?

A. Business leaders are struggling with mental health challenges, thanks to the stress and anxiety caused by trying to manage staff and keep firms going through the pandemic. The mental health crisis in the business community looks set to be significantly worse than that caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

We have seen a doubling in referrals from CEOs and other business leaders suffering from mental health problems in the pandemic, and the second wave of coronavirus is causing fresh uncertainty.

CEOs feel personally responsible for the future of their companies and the livelihoods of their employees and trying to keep things going in the middle of a dreadful global pandemic is causing stress, depression and anxiety which can become serious mental health problems.

We are seeing people who are normally social drinkers ending up drinking a bottle of spirits a day and others abusing drugs.

The constant uncertainty is taking its toll on CEOs across the globe.

Some are also really struggling with home working. They are used to having a battalion of people supporting them, but now they are having to juggle childcare responsibilities and the boundaries between office life and home life are becoming increasingly blurred. Some are not switching off at all and are experiencing constant stress.

What we are seeing in terms of mental health is worse than during the 2008 financial crisis, when CEO mental health suffered extremely badly.’

Q. Why is workplace bullying getting worse in the pandemic?

A. We have seen a threefold increase in referrals for executives being bullied in the boardroom, with clients suffering from substance abuse issues, depression and burnouts due to the stress caused.

The coronavirus has caused a great deal of stress, which some executives are taking out on their employees. The shift to remote work also exacerbates the problem. Cyberbullying is a lot easier than in-person bullying because it is harder to empathise with people from behind a computer screen.

This is a real concern that is emerging about working from home and one that responsible companies need to be aware of.

Q. Why is gaming addiction on the rise among young people?

Young people are spending hours online to contend with the stress and boredom of the latest coronavirus lockdowns. Referrals for young people who have taken to gaming to cope with being cooped up at home or worrying about exams after missing months of school have doubled on their usual rate.

In our view there is a clear link between an increase in gaming in children and young adults and Covid-19-related stress.

But many young people do not see the increased amounts of time spent online and the disruption being caused to their normal routines as a sign of addiction.

Many of them, and their parents, believe that spending hours a day gaming while other activities are limited is harmless and that they will be able to drop the habit once the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns of society are at an end.

Young people are struggling with boredom, loneliness and a lack of prospects. Many are using games to escape these challenges, which is leading to addiction.

That’s not always going to be the case. Gaming addiction is now widely recognised as a potentially serious condition and we treat a growing number of clients, mainly young adults, who have lost control of their online habits. Right now, many young people do not have a social life because of coronavirus so they see gaming as a nice way to occupy themselves and to connect with other people.

While they will usually insist that they are not addicted and are sure they can cut down on game time if they want to, in fact their gaming habits are intruding on the rest of their lives and would meet the clinical criteria for addiction.

Our experience suggests that the incidence of gaming disorder has doubled in the coronavirus pandemic and parents and young adults need to be aware of the very real dangers. Just as young people can become addicted to drugs, alcohol and pornography, so they can develop addictions to gaming.

Q. What should the Government be doing?

My assessment is that Governments everywhere have their heads in the sand over this problem. They need to invest more in mental health. It has been a Cinderella service for too long in many parts of the world.

The Government also needs to be aware that when it starts to withdraw the financial support that has kept people in their jobs, and the economic after-effects of the pandemic are really felt, we can expect a real crunch point. We need to be aware that the economic fallout from coronavirus lockdowns could be as serious for health as the virus itself.

This is a serious and global problem and many of the problems we are seeing are here to stay. They won’t vanish into thin air when we get coronavirus under control. Governments, medical authorities and ordinary people need to be much more aware of the mental health crisis that we are seeing and better at responding to it.

It’s very important that access to therapy is made easier. We need to lower the threshold to get people into treatment or counselling.

We need to break the mental health stigma and encourage people to reach out for support.

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