Mental health support services ‘at very real risk of being overrun’, psychiatrists warn

The Covid-19 pandemic have left services facing ‘unprecedented demand’, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. A charity said bed shortages, long waiting times and people being turned away are all now commonplace.

Britain’s mental health services are “at a very real risk of being overrun”, psychiatrists have warned.

The knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have left services facing “unprecedented demand”, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

And mental health charity Mind said bed shortages, long waiting times and people being turned away are all now commonplace.

Their warning comes after a large-scale study was published into the hidden multitudes who don’t seek help for mental heath problems.

The research, by international non-profit Surgo Ventures, showed one in five people wouldn’t seek professional care for at least six months, if ever.


With official figures showing rates of depression doubling in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hoped the research will help health professionals get crucial support to those who need it.

Mind raised concerns that even if these people did come forward for help, health services would need a significant funding boost to be capable of supporting them.

Vicki Nash, its head of policy, said: “The pandemic has seen an escalation in mental health problems with 1.6 million people now on the waiting list for treatment from mental health services, plus a further 8 million who can’t get on the waiting list because they’re not deemed unwell enough but could benefit from support.”

She said mental health services were overstretched and faced a real-terms drop in funding in April, adding: “Without significant investment in mental health services and social care and a clear plan for recruiting, training and retaining staffing, millions of people – including children and young people - will miss out on critical support in the coming years.”

‘We are already seeing unprecedented demand on mental health services’

Subodh Dave, Dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Social isolation, loneliness, stress and anxiety, domestic abuse, bereavement, financial difficulties, unemployment and severe Covid-19 infection are all factors that have had an impact on people’s mental health.

“As a result, we are already seeing unprecedented demand on mental health services, including eating disorder and children and young people’s services.

“More funding for mental health services that are at a very real risk of being overrun and a long-term workforce plan are needed to address growing demand.”

Surgo Ventures’ CEO and co-founder, Dr Sema K Sgaier, said: “We know that NHS mental health services are already at full capacity, however our figures are a stark reminder that many more people need help.

“Ultimately, we need more resources allocated for NHS mental health services.

“Our data explorer can also show us where more easily accessible virtual services may help ease the burden.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "We are determined that everyone is able to access the help and advice they need, so we are investing an additional £2.3 billion more a year into mental health services by 2023/24, on top of the £500 million we have made available to address the impact of the pandemic.”

The spokesman said the department was developing a long-term mental health strategy, adding: “Mental health services are there for those who need them, so if you need support or are concerned about someone else, please reach out for help.”

‘There is a lot of shame still’

Paul Scates Paul Scates
Paul Scates

Paul Scates, who is based in Bournemouth, has used mental health services from a young age.

He said: “For me, I came into services at 16 when, after experiencing trauma, I had jumped out of a window.”

Mr Scates, 42, works as a senior peer specialist for Dorset Mental Health Forum and also works in London as a speaker and consultant.

He said: “Even though we talk about mental health more, there is a lot of shame still. You hear people say, ‘Oh God, somebody else is jumping on the bandwagon saying they’ve got anxiety or depression.’

“If everybody had a minute of anxiety or depression, they would never say to somebody, ‘It’s only anxiety or depression, pull yourself together’.”

He said there were many reasons why people might be reluctant to seek care, which could be further influenced by factors such as their gender, occupation or cultural background.

But Mr Scates said that even when people did ask for help, accessing treatment could be fraught with difficulty.

He said there were often long waiting lists and disjointed organisations to navigate, while some people were judged to have problems too complex for some services and not severe enough for others.

He urged people who were struggling to access NHS help to try other avenues.

He said: “I always say to people, if they are being banged around or they are on a massive waiting list, what is out there that is non-statutory?”

For example, he said, there was a growing network of Recovery Colleges around the country which help people to improve their mental wellbeing.

If you are affected by the issues raised, the following organisations may be able to offer help or advice: The Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393 or email [email protected]; Samaritans: 116 123 or email [email protected]; The Rethink Mental Illness Advice Line: 0808 801 0525 or via its web chat service.

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