France’s health chief warns over steep rise in mental illness during pandemic

France's health chief warns over steep rise in mental illness during pandemic
France's Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon. Photo: AFP
French health services have reported a steep rise in mental health issues as people grapple with nine months of lockdowns, financial troubles and anxiety over Covid-19.

France's second lockdown appears to be working to curb the number of cases of Covid-19, with the health minister declaring “we have passed the peak” of the second wave earlier this week.

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But nine months of pandemic and its associated lockdowns, travel restrictions and economic damage are taking a steep toll on the nation's mental health, warned Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon.

In his weekly briefing on Tuesday, Salomon focused on the mental health aspects of the crisis, saying: “We must all be made aware of the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic on the mental health of the population.

“This epidemic is stressful, anxiety-provoking and can generate psychological suffering for many of us.

“We are thus observing a significant increase in depressive illnesses. The number of people affected doubled between the end of September and the beginning of November”.

Although anyone can be affected, he said that public health body Santé Publique France had noted that those particularly badly impacted included “people in very difficult financial situations, people with a history of mental illness, people who are not working and the young”.

He suggested that people take care of their mental health by staying in touch with family and friends, avoiding being connected to news or social media all day, trying to create a regular schedule, taking care of physical health through diet and exercise and avoiding over-consumption of tobacco and alcohol.

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He added: “You should never hesitate to consult a professional.”

Doctors and therapists in France are working as normal and many are offering online consultations for people unable to travel or worried about using public transport.

Salomon also urged people to take care of their loved ones' mental health, suggesting a list of questions to ask, including

  • Is your sleep disturbed?
  • Do you feel stressed, irritable or anxious?
  • Do you have trouble concentrating, sadness, loss of appetite, lack of energy?
  • Have you increased your consumption of alcohol and tobacco?

He added: “The psychological dimension of the crisis we are going through is important, let's continue with our solidarity, attentive to our loved ones, our neighbours, our friends.

“Let's take care of each other and don't hesitate to talk about it, to consult our doctor and get help”.

A 24/7 helpline has been set up for people in need of psychological support: 0800 130 000.   

There also exists in France an English-language helpline that provides emotional support for English-speakers in France – SOS Helpline can be reached on 01 46 21 46 46.

The Samaritans can be reached on 116 123.


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