The nagging anxieties and uncertainty caused by fear of the pandemic and its second-round effects (on employment, incomes, social and political stability) are not going away.

The psychological impact of the pandemic is becoming ever more apparent. According to a recent poll, more than 50% of American adults (more than 1 in 2!) assert that COVID-19 is taking a toll on their psychological wellbeing and mental health. Recently, Michelle Obama revealed she was experiencing “low-grade depression” caused by the effects of the confinement and the deteriorating political climate (itself exacerbated by the pandemic).

The wellness industry has an important role to play in forging a constructive response to this mental health crisis. First and foremost, by identifying and publicizing what works and what doesn’t.

It seems that too many try to assuage the intensity of their negative emotions by resorting to short-term fixes that make them worse: ranging from procrastinating, not making decisions, eating badly, drinking too much, to drug abuse (from marijuana to benzodiazepines). By contrast, some very simple and proven solutions exist to boost our sense of control and mastery—they are not a cure but offer coping mechanisms. (1) Breathe in a conscious and controlled fashion; (2) Practice mindfulness and meditation; (3) Lower your body temperature (by plunging all or parts of the body into cold water); (4) Listen to calming music. There are more. All are known to reduce stress and lower anxiety. They are accessible and have no side effects. Why is it that they are not better publicized?

For years, Lord Richard Layard, one of the founders of the academic discipline of wellbeing economics and current director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics, has argued that, in terms of wellbeing, the best return on investment comes from treating mental illness. The reasons are threefold: (1) More than any other factor (including poverty), mental un-wellness accounts for the majority of misery in our society; (2) Mental illness is the most serious health issue for the working population. In the UK, it accounts for 50% of working-age morbidity and 50% of all disability and absenteeism (hence prevention or cure results in less medical costs and more taxes); (3) Effective psychological treatments exist for most mental illnesses and are not expensive. However, they only reach fewer than one in five of those who need them (in the UK).

 

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