A survey of more than 16,000 people during lockdown by the charity Mind has revealed the scale of the impact of the pandemic on people with mental health problems. Two out of three (65 per cent) adults over 25 and three-quarters (75 per cent) of young people aged 13-24 with an existing mental health problem reported worse mental health.
More than one in five adults (22 per cent) with no previous experience of poor mental health now say that their mental health is poor or very poor. Mind predicts that prolonged worsening of wellbeing and continued inadequate access to NHS mental health services will see a marked increase in the numbers of people experiencing longer-term mental health problems.
The charity warns that easing of lockdown won’t address many of the underlying issues and the worst is yet to come; the impact on mental health of unemployment, financial difficulties and housing issues will grow as government-led emergency support measures come to an end and recession bites.
Key findings from the data include:
• Of those who tried to access NHS mental health services, one in four (25 per cent were unable to get support. A further one in three adults and more than one in four young people did not try to access support during lockdown because they did not think that their problem was serious enough. Data from elsewhere has shown a fall in referrals to NHS talking therapies and Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services*, and a dramatic drop in the number of people detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act in March**.
• People living in social housing (a proxy for social deprivation) are more likely to have poor mental health and to have seen it get worse during the pandemic. Over half (52 per cent) of people living in social housing said their mental health was poor or very poor, and over two thirds (67 per cent) say that their mental health got worse during lockdown. Similarly, over half (58 per cent) of under-18s who receive free school meals said their mental health was poor or very poor (vs 41 per cent not receiving free school meals), with three quarters (73 per cent) of this group saying that it got worse during lockdown.
• Those who were unemployed and seeking work during the pandemic were more likely to have lower wellbeing scores and worse mental health than those who were in employment. Those who were furloughed, changed jobs or lost their job due to coronavirus saw their mental health and wellbeing decline more than those whose employment status didn’t change, with three quarters (73 per cent) reporting lower than average wellbeing scores compared to two thirds (66 per cent) of those whose employment didn’t change.
The charity has today announced five key tests for UK Government as part of its recovery plan for mental health: investing in community services; protecting those most at risk and addressing inequalities faced by people from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic communities; reforming the Mental Health Act; providing a financial safety net through the benefits system; and supporting children and young people.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
“The coronavirus pandemic is as much a mental health emergency as it is a physical one. The devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, and the inevitable recession that lies ahead will leave a deep and lasting scar on our nation’s mental health. Those of us who were already struggling with our mental health have fared worst, but we also know that many people who were previously well will now develop mental health problems, as a direct consequence of the pandemic.
“We have been calling on successive UK governments to put mental health at the heart of the policy and political agenda. This has never been more critical than it is now. As we look to the future, those in power must make the right choices to rebuild services and support, and to ensure that the society that comes after the pandemic is kinder, fairer and safer for everyone experiencing a mental health problem. This is can only be achieved by putting mental health at the very centre of the UK Government’s recovery plans, not only in relation to the NHS, but across all domestic departments. We, and our colleagues in the voluntary sector, are willing and able to work with colleagues across Westminster to make this happen.”