‘Second pandemic’ of mental health issues on its way, ministers warned

Waiting lists for care are at an all time high

NHS leaders and doctors have warned of a possible “second pandemic” of mental health issues if “dangerously long” waiting lists for care aren’t addressed.

Ministers have been called upon to draw up a recovery plan to tackle the rising numbers of people suffering from depression, anxiety, psychosis and eating disorders.

The Covid crisis caused a sharp rise in the national levels of people experiencing mental health problems, with 1.6 million people currently on a waiting list for specialised treatment and an additional eight million who can’t even get onto a wait list but would benefit from support.

In some parts of England, specialist mental health services are so overwhelmed they are “bouncing back” even the most serious of patients at risk to the GPs that referred them. Doctors are now warning that these patients, suffering from risk of suicide, self-harm and starvation could likely “die” as a result.

There has been a 72% increase in children and teenagers referred for urgent support for eating disorders in one year, and a 52% rise in emergency referrals for under-18s to crisis care since the start of the pandemic. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, also said that national levels of depression have almost doubled since the start of the pandemic. He is now facing serious pressure to develop a “comprehensive plan” that can respond to the rising demand for mental health care in England.

“The impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health cannot be overstated,” said Olly Parker, the head of external affairs at the charity YoungMinds.

Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Millions of children, young people and adults are seeking help from mental health services that are overstretched and under-resourced. The situation is critical. The government cannot afford to neglect mental health recovery any longer.”

“We are moving towards a new phase of needing to ‘live with’ coronavirus but for a worrying number of people, the virus is leaving a growing legacy of poor mental health that services are not equipped to deal with adequately at present,” said Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents the whole of the healthcare system in England.

“With projections showing that 10 million people in England, including 1.5 million children and teenagers, will need new or additional support for their mental health over the next three to five years it is no wonder that health leaders have dubbed this the second pandemic. A national crisis of this scale deserves targeted and sustained attention from the government in the same way we have seen with the elective care backlog.”

The NHS Confederation is calling for an expansion of NHS estates for specialist mental health care, and a major recruitment drive, as part of a recovery plan. One in 10 consultant psychiatrist posts are unfilled.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58. You matter.

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