Data analysis by Mind has revealed that more people have experienced a mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic than ever previously recorded.
Calls to its helpline have also increased and the charity is warning that urgent investment must be made to support community services into the winter and stem the flow of people into hospitals and mental health beds protected for those that need them.
According to analysis of NHS Digital figures, urgent and emergency referrals of people in crisis have shot up since the beginning of the first national lockdown, with figures for June and July higher than ever previously recorded.
Overall, there was a 15% increase in these referrals from March until July, the most recent figures published. A total of 2,276 more urgent and emergency referrals were made in July alone this year compared to the same month last year. There was also a 19% increase in people detained for mental health treatment who were admitted to acute beds.
Jessie, 27, was hospitalised after contracting coronavirus while working as a student nurse on a paediatric intensive care ward. She had no previous experience of mental health problems, but her mental health worsened as a result and she reached out to Mind for support.
‘I started to realise what I had gone through had taken a toll on my mental health.
‘I was getting heart palpitations at night, feeling extremely anxious about everything and I couldn’t sleep. I thought there was something physically wrong with me, but my GP said I was having panic attacks and suggested I call Mind’s Infoline for help.
‘When I rang up, I spoke to this lovely lady who told me it was going to be alright and lots of people are experiencing the same thing. She talked me through some ways to cope. You hear about charities, but you can’t appreciate what they do until you’re in that position yourself.
‘Right now, because of coronavirus, you can’t have a cup of tea with your mum and you can’t see friends in the way you used to – the resources and support that Mind offer right now is so much more important because of this.
‘I dread to think what state I would have ended up in if I hadn’t called the Infoline. I know first-hand how overstretched the NHS is right now so it would have been hard if things had got worse.’
A mental health crisis can include self-harming, psychosis, attempting suicide or a manic episode. The NHS classes some mental health crises as life-threatening and most require face to face support, although this has plummeted in recent months. If someone poses a risk to their own or anyone else’s safety, they can be detained for assessment and treatment.
The figures come as mental health bed occupancy rates return to pre-pandemic levels*, following an initial rush to discharge patients, and wards try to keep patients safe from coronavirus by reducing bed spaces by 30 per cent.
The data shows the nation is in the grip of a mental health emergency, further underlined by a spike in calls to Mind’s Infoline. The charity has seen up to 500 calls a day to its helpline in October, twice the number it would usually see at this time of year.
Mind is calling on the government to urgently invest in community services and to allow people with severe mental health problems to access Covid-safe face to face support if they need it, including in places in Tier 3 lockdowns.
As the NHS prepares for increased pressure over winter, the charity wants to make sure people can get the right support early to avoid reaching crisis and that those returning home after coming out of hospital are helped to stay well.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: ‘This is a critical moment for the government to act to prevent a second, mental health, pandemic.
‘It has to invest in mental health services in the community right now and give those most at risk the option of face to face support if they need it, even in areas with the strictest lockdown restrictions. We know how urgent this is because of the hundreds more people ringing Mind asking for help.
‘Far too many people aren’t getting the support they need and are ending up in crisis. This is traumatic for them and adds to the strain on the NHS, which is simply running out of mental health beds.
‘The government has to learn from what went wrong in the first wave of coronavirus and make sure people can access help early on, to protect people’s mental health and the NHS.
‘We also cannot see mental health bed capacity being sacrificed to ease pressure on other parts of the system this time round; demand for these beds is increasing and will only continue to do so as we head into winter.
‘Mind set out five key tests for the Government’s coronavirus response, including investing in community services and protecting those most at risk. Those tests must be met if we are to stand any hope of preventing a national mental health pandemic.’
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