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COVID-19 mental-health responses neglect social realities

A diagnosis is rarely a solution to problems caused by poverty and inequality

Early in the COVID-19 outbreak, I was surprised and relieved that mental health was getting due attention. The World Health Organization released guidelines on how to protect your mental health in March. The UK government responded rapidly with public-health guidelines and beefed-up online support. In April, The Lancet Psychiatry called for multidisciplinary research to develop mental-health responses during the pandemic (E. A. Holmes et al. Lancet Psychiatry http://doi.org/ggszmj; 2020).

But when I look closer, I’m struck with a familiar disappointment. Once again, recommendations forget half of the equation: our need to address the social and economic conditions that contribute to poor mental health. A woman who has lost her job and cannot feed her family will find little relief from a meditation app. Advice such as ‘stay off social media’ will do little to ease the anxiety of a young black man in constant fear of being kicked out of shops by security guards for wearing a face covering, or abused or even killed by law-enforcement officers who have been given new powers to police social behaviour.

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