Mental health of the nation will suffer in lockdown, leading psychiatrist warns

'There's only so much pain a human can take' he said

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Sir Simon Wessely said humanity has not faced a psychological challenge such as this before
Sir Simon Wessely said humanity has not faced a psychological challenge such as this before Credit: Clara Molden

The mental health of British people is likely to suffer as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, a government psychiatrist has said as he warns most studies have shown the effects to be long term.

Sir Simon Wessely said humanity has never faced a challenge like this, and noted that even during World War Two people could still go out to restaurants and spend time with their loved ones.

The psychology professor, who is currently Chair of the government’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, warned of the "uncharted territory" we are facing.

Sir Simon told the Today Programme: "People are saying this is like it was in the war but actually that's not true, during the war we were still able to go to cinemas, restaurants, work, in fact we were encouraged to do so, and our schools were still open."

The scientist, who is a consultant psychiatrist at King's College Hospital, added that it is "unhelpful" to give people a date when the lockdown will end as it gives false hope. 

The Prime Minister has said the current strict rules will be reviewed in three weeks, but could go on for longer.

Sir Simon explained: "We know that there's only so much pain people can take, we know that the longer quarantine goes on for the greater the risks of long term effects, we also know it's not a good idea to give a date when this is going to end, that's kind of false reassurance as the truth is that we don't".

Britain has been in 'lockdown' since the beginning of this week, with people only allowed to leave the house once a day for exercise, public gatherings banned and all "non-essential" businesses shut.

The professor said this will only work in the long term if people are doing it for altruistic reasons and do not feel "coerced".

He added that all studies show that these types of lockdowns have been shown to have long-term mental health effects.

Sir Simon said: "When people think they're doing this for the common good, we know from previous outbreaks that they're far more likely to comply and they also have much less long term side effects, because there are going to be mental health side effects, psychological side effects, the past again the evidence we found 24 studies that looked at this over SARS and Ebola, 23 found long term mental health effects."