Second wave coronavirus stress: Interview for Sky News

Interview with Prof. Wulf Rössler, MD; MSc.

14.09.2020 - Interviews, Mental health

Professor Wulf Rössler has recently appeared on both radio and television, discussing a potential mental health crisis as a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking on Sky News, Professor Rössler examines the impact the ‘new normal’ is having on peoples’ mental health and those most at risk. He identifies the key signs that a person is struggling and outlines the behavioural patterns to avoid in order to better cope with the current situation.

Experts are warning of a mental health crisis in the UK as communities face new spikes in cases of COVID-19. The threat of lockdown and it’s associated isolation risks increasing anxiety among young people, and most people who are also already vulnerable to suffering poor mental health. But I’m now joined by Professor Wulf Rössler, Executive Medical Director of Psychiatry and Psychology at The Kusnacht Practice in Switzerland.

Thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning. Now of course the fears for mental strain as a result of the pandemic has really started to push to the fore now, isn’t it?

Wulf Rössler: Yes it is undoubtedly, but I mean this is not new. It’s not the pandemic itself, I mean these are the circumstances we live in. Being isolated, which has become a reality for many people, and as we are human beings who want to socialise this is very hard to take and results in mental problems for many people.

And what are some of the examples of the impact that the pandemic is having on people’s mental health?

WR: Well, I mean it’s something we all know and experience when we are isolated, cannot communicate, we experience fear or anxiety. I mean people who are, or have been vulnerable to mental problems are at increased risks to develop more severe mental problems, like more anxiety, panic attacks, depression. These are the most common disorders related to the pandemic.

And what about those people with health problems as well because they’ve had to shield for even longer than the rest of the country?

WR: Yes, I mean we do know that people at risk should be particularly cautious about the pandemic, but actually this refers more or less to all people. We also know that the pandemic is also a risk for younger people, I mean it’s not like that, but we have split society; the older and the physically ill persons on one side and the rest of the population. I mean everybody is, in a way, in danger of catching a very severe course of the illness. So, I mean, that’s quite clear that in a way we all have to cope with that, and I would say what has become part of our reality is social distancing, maybe we should turn it around to distant socialising. This is what we need to do today, we need to use the technologies we have today to communicate, meet with other people. This is what all kinds of other people are doing, for example, musicians meet on the internet to make music together, and things like that. So my feeling is that the pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in us. In a way where we’re creative, finding solutions and things like that, but on the other side there are dangers, there are mental problems and people have to cope with that.

And what are some of the signs that friends’ and loved ones’ should be looking out for to see if somebody is struggling?

WR: Well, I mean there might be quite a few people who choose quite dysfunctional coping strategies, for example, drinking too early, drinking too much, and things like that; smoking too much, using substances. I mean these are, if you really don’t find your way through the pandemic, and getting irritated, getting into trouble, fights with your family, well these are the first signs you have to look for.

And what about young people here in the UK. We are dealing with the aftermath of A-level results, and then of course we’ve got GCSC results coming out. A lot of young people are really struggling with those grades and some people are describing it as a crisis. So what about young people, are they particularly at risk?

WR: Yeah, well I’ve read about the A-level crisis. I mean something happens which is a great interest in social psychological phenomenon, what we call processual fairness. I mean, we were affected by the lockdown all the same. We had to stay at home. But now the measures always are directed to certain groups, and I think this A-level crisis, this is one of these dysfunctional political strategies to deal with the crisis you know; and if people feel they are unfairly treated, I mean they get angry, and they’re right, they should get angry. And they should discuss with their politicians. I mean this is something, this is a core value of our democracies that we are all treated equally and are not at a disadvantage compared to others in this pandemic.

Professor Wulf Rössler, thank you very much indeed for your time this morning.

WR: You’re welcome, thank you very much.