Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said he was worried mental health concerns as a result of lockdown areas had been “weaponised by those with other political agendas”, adding that there was increasing evidence that the virus directly attacked the central nervous system that can affect mental wellbeing as well as the effects of being severely ill and needing to go into hospital and put on a ventilator.
This can leave people post traumatic stress and long term anxiety and depression.
He told The Independent: “We need urgently to wake up to the very serious mental health consequences for people who get Covid and for the families of those who are disabled or killed by this disease. Stricter measures to control the virus are needed to minimise Covid-related mental illness as much as possible.
“A lot of the arguments around the detriment to people's mental health has been around lockdown and undoubtedly, there are many. The social economic consequences and the economic hardship, that goes without saying.
“But people can then use that as the argument in relation to mental health being always about not locking down, and I really want to make the point that there are real mental health consequences of having the virus itself."
He said there would be no escape from the mental health impact of the virus on the UK, with NHS services expecting a surge in demand in the coming months and years.
Dr James, a forensic psychiatrist with Devon Partnership NHS Trust, added: “Where the virus is getting out of control, one of the arguments for actually looking at it more aggressively is a mental health argument. That hasn't been given the prominence that it should have been.”
NHS England has pledged that it will maintain promised extra funding of £2.3 billion for mental health services by 2023-24 but Dr James said this was likely not to be enough given the expected demands from the pandemic.
He said he was “extremely worried” about the long term demands on mental health services.
“The system is finding the current situation extremely challenging when you look at the number of people, presenting in crisis in emergency departments., it seems to be very high. And I think as we we go more into the second wave it's going to get worse.
“If the government is going to fund all the health consequences of Covid, they need to fund the mental health consequences of Covid as well as the physical health.”