Uncertainty, fear and a growing sense of isolation is leading to the next public health crisis as measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic take a toll on resilience and mental wellbeing.

Heightened anxiety early in the pandemic saw a rapid rise in demand for psychological services. Now there is a more worrying trend of increasing despair and depression. Are more prescriptions for anxiolytics and antidepressants the best we can do in the face of increasing levels of psychological distress in our society? Can we find better long-term solutions to mental health problems?

It’s time to think outside the square and ask questions. How can we get better at recognising who is at risk, better at understanding the significant role physiology, emotional wellbeing and social determinants play in risk management and better at educating our patients about the importance of looking after their mental health?

Dr Jenny Brockis, GP and workplace consultant

Dr Jenny Brockis, GP and workplace consultant

How can we get better at advising on simple practical tools to improve or stabilise mood, and develop a smart integrated system that partners with a variety of health and community resources to enable every patient to access the appropriate level of care and service needed in a timely manner?

Restoring mental wellbeing

As Benjamin Franklin said, “A pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure.”

In times of crisis it’s natural to seek reassurance and to follow leaders we can trust. As health practitioners we can assist our patients by helping them understand what is normal to experience in these unusual times, what is possible for them to focus on to improve their state of mind, and how to become proactive and self-reliant to build long-term resilience.

Every consultation is the chance to ask, “how are things going for you, really?” Remembering to check in on a person especially if they live alone, have little social support, have lost their job or are finding the ongoing situation increasingly difficult to manage. Doctors can provide accurate and trustworthy information to combat the hype, misinformation and conspiracy theories and reaffirm the positive aspect of healthy lifestyle choices.

Use a brief questionnaire (e.g. Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) and or subjective wellbeing questionnaire as a form of rapid assessment of mental wellbeing.

Evaluate wellbeing on the basis of how people feel and function on a personal and social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole. Provide additional ongoing support via telehealth. This facilitates tracking patient progress, especially for those previously diagnosed with complex or severe mental health challenges or considered vulnerable to poorer mental health.

Making mental wellbeing part of a regular health check has the potential to reduce the prevalence of mood disorders in our community. Now that would be something to celebrate.

Key messages

  • Mental health problems are increasing.
  • We need to ask questions “outside the square”.
  • Evaluate and manage the whole person.

References available on request.

Questions? Contact the editor.

Author competing interests: None to disclose.

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