Mental health crisis: The 'hidden face' of France's Covid epidemic

By Amanda Morrow with RFI
NOV 20, 2020 LISTEN

Psychological distress from the Covid-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown has led to a “significant deterioration” in the mental health of French people, Health Minister Olivier Véran has warned.

Despite an apparent slowdown in the spread of coronavirus, infection levels are still high and French hospitals are still under heavy strain. 

In his weekly update Thursday, Véran described mental health problems – anxiety, depression, grief, the guilt of having infected a loved one – as the “hidden face” of the epidemic.

"The psychological impact of lockdown is real … Not everyone suffers from it, but anyone could,” he said.

Increasing violence within families was another problem, he said – urging anyone who witnessed a child in trouble to telephone the emergency 119 hotline.

"Since the end of August, there's been an increase in anxiety and a decrease in life satisfaction," Véran said, adding that more than 40 emergency cells set up to offer psychological help had treated some 8,000 people since the first virus wave in March.

"160 additional psychologists are in the process of being recruited … with nearly 20,000 calls made every day to the toll-free number for psychological assistance.”

In France there are about 4,700 Covid-19 patients in intensive care, and up to 3,500 patients in non-Covid intensive care.

Infections down
In more encouraging news, the second nationwide lockdown imposed on 30 October seems to be paying off.

French health authorities on Friday said the peak of the second coronavirus wave had likely passed, with infection levels were falling "more markedly" since curfew and lockdown restrictions were imposed.

"The health care burden will gradually decrease; we must not relax our efforts and our vigilance,” said Véran.

The latest French figures show 436 deaths recorded in the 24 hours to Friday, bringing the overall number of fatalities to 47,134.