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Let’s talk! What support do people need to thrive and recover from the pandemic?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 7 June 2021

Kimberly Loke and Keri Wong.

Pandemic fatigue is now a global phenomenon. Close to a third of workers in the Asia-Pacific region and 75% in the US arereporting symptoms of burnout and a February Ipsos MORI survey found that 60% of people were finding it more difficult to stay positive every day compared to pre pandemic times. While news of effective vaccines brings hope, many people will continue to struggle in months to come.

The latest on-going wave of data collected by the UCL-Penn Global COVID Study helps us understand what support participants and their family members need to thrive and recover from the pandemic (n= 336). While a small minority (9%) reported needing “nothing in addition to what they already have” and “would love to contribute to the local community”, we identified five key areas where people need support. These are:

  1. Reductions in workload (24%)
  2. Access and continued access to mental health services (22%)
  3. Understanding from others and personal support (14%)
  4. Assurances from employers and financial support and help (12%)
  5. Clarity in government guidelines and messaging (11%).

Reductions in workload

People’s workloads have changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Many participants spoke of the need for reassurances about long-term job security and flexible working arrangements. Students, in particular, mentioned that having a more accommodating university would be helpful, which includes “safety-net policies” and a “decreased workload”.

“It would be incredibly supportive for my work to give advance notice when things begin to transition to in-person work again”.

“Continued support of my current employer, which has been exemplary”.

“Reassurance from my employer about the long-term”.

Access and continued access to Mental Health support

People spoke about the need for mental health therapy to reduce marital conflict and maintain individual wellbeing, as well as access to counselling services for their children.

“We are applying for Early Help. We have an appointment with CAMHS. Time and space to continue doing these things. Not lots of catch-up work/lessons from school.”

“Parents would benefit from couple’s therapy; lockdown has emphasised underlying issues they’ve been refusing to address.”

“I think some mental health counselling might be beneficial”

“Support with how to cope with everything going back to normality”

“I would appreciate better access to mental health support (because I am not a citizen, I do not qualify for affordable mental health care).”

Personal support

Many stated that the presence of a close support system would be important for coping. This includes having more human interactions and the “opportunity to visit family”. Indeed, while measures on physical distancing may be necessary, they can make us feel isolated and alone through this pandemic. On the other hand, we found a mixed set of opinions, as several individuals mentioned “distance from each other” would help ameliorate the impact of the pandemic. By and large, opinions on visiting family and friends depended on whether people felt safe to come together again.

Financial support from employer and government incentives

In addition to general financial support, especially for vulnerable groups (for example, those on disability support, the elderly or those who are immunocompromised), many participants voiced the need for greater “funding to support people looking for jobs” or “funding for any debt that has occurred because of the pandemic”.

“Just enough money to get into different, safer housing and not have to choose between food and medicine”.

[Need for] “whatever material resources could help bring some security and stability to the life of myself and my family”

“Government support in terms of cash dole outs especially to the middle-income sector”

Clarity in Government guidelines and messaging

We received a considerable number of comments on the current political climate and the way in which the government has responded to the pandemic.

The need for a “trustworthy government” and “a government that is focused on supporting people rather than pandering to their financial backers”.

“The biggest thing is really responsible official messaging around how people can be safe while outside. That’s it.”

“The government needs to put more money into NHS”

“Government guidelines that are clear for people to follow”

In terms of social climate,

“Stop racism against Asians”

“Other people to wear a mask, social distance, and follow rules informed by sciences (not politics)”

“We mostly need other people agreeing to behave properly… I still have no plans for returning to normal activities given that people who aren’t even vaccinated are refusing to prioritize their and others’ health and safety”.

“If shops and malls etc continue to have limited capacity and guidelines requiring masks and social distancing, I will probably feel comfortable going out again”.

Many participants interpreted ‘support’ as steps towards combating the virus. They expressed their wish for more people to get vaccinated in the hope of bringing about herd immunity (11%). Such concerns are prompted by reports that more than 7% of adults in Great Britain questioned between 31 March and 25 April expressed COVID vaccine hesitancy.

Where do we go from here?

For a more durable and inclusive recovery, support is needed most for the hardest-hit and most vulnerable, including minority groups, those with disabilities and people on precarious contracts, unemployed or in low income brackets. If public opinion on improvements in public health and safety are heeded, there is every chance that the country will bounce back from our current trials. By documenting the personal accounts of individuals and engaging health and research experts from the scientific community, we hope to provide the necessary behavioural insights to support a sustainable journey to recovery.

One example of this is a collaboration between six institutions (from the USA, Italy, Singapore, China, UK). The UCL-Penn Global COVID Study Team is organising a UCL Global Engagement Office sponsored 5-day free virtual Summer Webinar series (2 June to 28 July) to bring members of the public into conversation with researchers and experts in policy, non-profit organisations, and clinical practice. The aim is to feed back study findings and get the conversation going between key stakeholders on how best to recover from the pandemic. If we are to build back better, we must come together.

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