Thursday, March 09, 2023

The "mental health tsunami" that never arrived

Remember how, during the COVID-19 pandemic - I'm pretending it's over now - remember how, during the pandemic, everyone and his dog was warning that there would be a massive mental health crisis (a "mental health tsunami" was a phrase commonly used)? In fact, many an earnest mental health activist came on television claiming that such a tsunami had already arrived, and that anxiety and depression levels had reached record levels, particularly in school kids who were being denied contact with their fellows.

Well, it turns out that mental health tsunami never actually happened. Or that it was more of a gently lapping wave than a tsunami. A major meta-analysis of worldwide mental health data published recently in the august British Medical Journal has found no significant declines in mental health. Rather, it seems that humanity has actually dealt with a difficult situation rather well, and that we're more resilient than we thought.

Although some students and seniors did experience small increases in depression, and there was a very small increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression among women (who, remember, bore the brunt of the risky, high-stress jobs during the worst times of the pandemic), there was no overall spike in depression and anxiety, even among teens (as I have reported before). Even particularly vulnerable groups (like those with scleroderma, who were followed particularly closely in a longitudinal study) seem to have dealt relatively well with the exigencies of the pandemic. 

Likewise, suicide figures, which were expected to mushroom as a result of the lockdowns and restrictions, did not mushroom at all, but held steady and even fell in the first two years of the pandemic (as I have also reported before), a counter-intuitive finding that has actually been noted in many previous collective crises.

Turns out we are way more resilient than we thought. And certainly more resilient than all those earnest mental health advocates were telling us.

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