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We’ve contributed to a report which shows that the negative effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health was largest and most prolonged in the North of England.

The Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) study estimated that mental ill health in the region cost the UK’s economy £2billion during the two years of the pandemic.

The report, co-authored by Dr Nasima Akhter, of Durham’s Department of Anthropology, showed the pandemic had caused a sharp rise in regional inequality in mental health with ethnic minorities in the North worst affected.

It also found that ethnic minority women from the North persistently had the worst mental health scores throughout the pandemic.

‘Parallel pandemic’

The report describes a ‘parallel pandemic’ alongside the Covid-19 pandemic with:

  • Under-35s in the North more likely to have developed a psychiatric disorder over the course of the pandemic, an increase of 2.5 per cent compared to a reduction of 1.3 per cent in rest of England.

  • The North saw a 12 per cent increase in the numbers of anti-depressants prescribed during the pandemic, much higher than in the rest of England.

  • 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 and this was greater for those of an ethnic minority in the North.

  • Women from ethnic minorities in the North had the worst mental health in the country. Their mental health scores fell by ten per cent at the start of the pandemic and their scores were four per cent lower throughout the pandemic.

  • Mental health fell equally in the North and the rest of the country during the pandemic (five per cent decrease), but it recovered more quickly in the rest of the country (to a 1.3 per cent decrease) than in the North (two per cent decrease).

  • The report conservatively estimates the reductions in mental health in the North during the pandemic have cost the UK economy £2billion in lost economic productivity. This is £2billion more than if the North had suffered the same mental health outcomes as the rest of the country.

  • The gap between the lowest and highest earners increased during the pandemic and remains large.

Health inequalities

The report’s authors said their findings reiterated that the Covid-19 pandemic had been very unequal, with people in the most deprived communities suffering most in terms of death rates, dying younger and in on going ill-health such as long covid.

This reflects long-term inequalities in how social circumstances determine health, how we live, work and age, they added.

The report suggests that greater initiatives are needed to address inequalities in mental health in the North, if the UK Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda is to be achieved.

Key recommendations include calling for an increase in National Health Service (NHS) and local authority resources and service provision for mental health in the North, focussing on prevention and improving resilience.

The report also calls for investment in research and development of area level measures of physical and mental health to better understand place-based inequalities.

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