People with mental health problems are ending up in crisis and at higher risk of suicide because they cannot get their usual help from the NHS during the lockdown, a leading charity has warned.
Those struggling with serious conditions have found it hard to cope because their appointments have been cancelled and they have had trouble getting support from their GP, the mental health charity Mind said. The lack of care increased the danger of them self-harming, it said.
One in four people who have tried to access help to deal with mental health issues in the past two weeks have not been able to do so, the Mind survey found. Some reported being turned away by mental health crisis teams that support people who may be suicidal, while others said they could not get in touch with their local community mental health team.
The findings show the impact of the huge changes NHS services have made in recent weeks, especially the halting of most face-to-face contact with outpatients to reduce the risk to staff and patients of coronavirus infections.
The survey comes amid growing fear that the unprecedented restrictions on people’s movements, and consequent isolation from family and friends, will lead to a sharp rise in anxiety and depression, especially for those who already have a psychological condition.
Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said: “A vast number of us have seen our mental health deteriorate during the coronavirus crisis. It is therefore deeply concerning that people are struggling to get the help that they urgently need. Evidence shows that when people do not get support early enough, they end up in crisis.
“People with mental health problems have been hit hard by the current situation,” he said. “We are particularly worried that some are being discharged too early from hospital, while others have been left languishing on mental health wards because of the current limited availability of community support. Being sent home at the wrong time can delay recovery and, at worst, puts people at high risk of suicide.”
People with acute mental health needs “must not be forgotten” as a result of the NHS transformation to prioritise Covid-19 patients, Farmer said.
The results are based on Mind’s survey of 5,565 people with direct experience of mental health problems, of whom 3,895 had used mental health services. A fifth had sought help from NHS mental health services in the past fortnight, but a quarter could not get it.
Among those, 24% said they had trouble contacting a GP or community mental health team, and 22% were uncomfortable using the telephone or video call technology to talk to their nurse, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. A fifth (22%) had had their appointment cancelled. Some of the respondents had sought help from a private health provider or charity.
One respondent told Mind: “My mental health has got worse because there is no help anywhere. I went to A&E suicidal and was told that there was nothing they could do. I contacted the crisis team and they said the same.”
Another said: “I have schizoaffective disorder and have a fantastic support team. My community psychiatric nurse, support worker and GP have all pulled out of my care. I can only access them on the phone for very short periods.”
Andy Bell, the deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health thinktank, said: “It is worrying that large numbers of people with mental health difficulties are not able to get help at this time. It’s really important that mental health services stay open for business as much as possible, but with proper protection for both staff and patients.
“Warnings that the pandemic may increase the number of people who tragically die by suicide also need to be taken seriously. It is not inevitable if we put in place the right support for people who feel suicidal, or who are at high risk of losing their lives.”
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health, said people who needed help should seek it from NHS services.
“The NHS is pulling out all the stops to respond to the biggest global health threat in a century, while also ensuring people can still safely access the mental health services they need, so our message to anyone experiencing poor mental health is: the NHS is here for you, please help us help you, and come forward for the care you need.”