Call for a mental health 'recovery plan' after the COVID-19 pandemic
The NHS states that one-in-four adults and one-in-ten children experience mental health problems during their lifetime. These figures will no doubt increase due to the existing Covid19 pandemic with recent calls from Mental Health champions to put a ‘recovery plan’ in place to support the increase in requests for mental health support. Unfortunately, when suffering from mental health problems, it can be difficult to imagine that holistic activities, therapies, or programmes can be effective in treatment and prevention of mental health issues and widespread scepticism often means people only seek help and advice when they are at their lowest point.
With the increasing demand on NHS and mental health services, those in need will undoubtedly find the whole process frustrating as some initially experience long waiting lists and believe that a brief chat with their GP will instantly lead to a diagnosis. In reality, mental health can be a complex condition, and receiving treatment can be an extensive process with many medical referrals and consultations.
To support the growing demand for mental health support, NHS organisations have been working collaboratively with allied health professionals and the VCSE sector to improve the outcomes and experiences of people of all ages with mental health problems to ensure mental health is treated on par with physical health.
Let’s have a look at some of the current trends of mental health and wellbeing throughout England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The Mental Health Foundation has been working with the University of Cambridge, Swansea University, the University of Strathclyde, and Queen’s University Belfast, on the latest landmark mental health study.
This long-term study began shortly before the lockdown in March 2020 where the UK public was asked a selection of questions at 10 intervals, generating approximately 36,000 responses. The study reveals that anxiety has decreased and loneliness has risen in the UK since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is evident that one year on, the crisis has had a wide and deep emotional impact on UK adult’s mental health and wellbeing.
“The Study has tracked the pandemic’s impacts on our mental health for a year now. It is absolutely important to remember that the experience of the past year has not been shared by everyone. We have all been in the same storm, but we have not all been in the same boat. The Coronavirus vaccine brings hope. The warmer weather brings smiles. However, for many of us, the next few months – and even years – will remain tough, vulnerable, and uncertain.” – Dr. Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation.
Some of the responses from UK adults are as follows:
- Loneliness has increased: from 10% in March 2020 to 26% in February 2021
- Young adults (18-24 years old), full-time students, people who are unemployed, single parents and those with long-term disabling health and pre-existing problems with mental health continue to be significantly more likely to feel distressed, across a range of measures, compared with UK adults.
From the survey results, it is evident that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on mental health and loneliness throughout the UK, and with restrictions in place, there are fewer connections to help the public cope with these difficulties as there may be less emotional support at a challenging time for almost everyone during this global crisis.
According to an RTE News article, almost 60% of people have said their mental health has been impacted by the global pandemic, with younger people more likely to experience difficulties with their wellbeing.
The Central Statistics Office, shared the fifth Social Impact of COVID-19 survey to showcase how people’s lives in Ireland have changed in the last year.
1,621 people in Ireland had participated in an online questionnaire and the evaluation identified over 15% were “downhearted or depressed all or most of the time” four weeks prior to completing the survey.
Here are a variety of survey responses from people in Ireland:
- Almost three-quarters of people aged between 18-34 years old stated the pandemic was having a negative impact on their mental health
- 40% of people have described their life satisfaction as “low”
In recent months, The Irish Times released an article on Ireland’s mental health pandemic stating “there is a tsunami of mental health need coming when COVID-19 receeds. Ireland’s mental health system is not prepared for a crisis – because it was in one before we ever heard of coronavirus.”
There are 2,000 children and young people waiting for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Ireland. Michael Ryan, HSE Ireland’s national head of mental health and recovery, speaks to The Irish Times explaining the change of culture so that service users are put at the centre of a holistic recovery plan where they feel supported and listened to.
Overall, It is clear that there is an increase in mental health problems in people of all ages in Ireland, and in this current climate, GPs, and allied health professionals are overwhelmed and understaffed with the biggest barrier being a lack of resources.
According to Strathspey and Badenoch Herald online there are ‘heartbreaking’ delays for children’s mental health services that are similar to Ireland. Figures have shown that there has been an increase of more than 2200% in the number of children waiting more than one year for access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services across the North of Scotland over the last few years.
It has been revealed by the Freedom of Information request by Highland Liberal Democrats that there is a significant backlog to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services with more than 4,000 children waiting more than 18 weeks to seek mental health support.
In 2016/17, NHS Highland had 81 cases of people waiting more than 18 weeks for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and just nine waited for over one year, the next year saw a slight rise in both categories.
By last year, the figures stood at 386 cases for those waiting more than 18 weeks while 214 cases had more than a year which indicates a respective rise of 376% and 2277%.
“For years vulnerable children across the north of Scotland have been subjected to harrowing long waits for help.” – Ms Nolan, the Liberal Democrat for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
The Daily Record published an article this month based on mental health in young children and teenagers in Lanarkshire and the fear of those in need being “turned away”. New statistics showed approximately more than 1,000 young people under the age of 18 across the region sought mental health support in the final months of 2020 and 400 of these young people were refused treatment, charities have described this as “deeply troubling”.
“Scotland’s mental health services were struggling before the pandemic, and these figures demonstrate once again that we need a radical new plan. Young people deserve the right to get help the first time they ask, without fearing that they will be turned away.” Jo Anderson of the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
- 70% of people referred to the Health Board have been seen within the 18 week target and the remaining 30% are facing lengthy waiting times
- People who are currently awaiting appointments, 512% have already exceeded the 18 week target compared to 46.9% nationally.
- 137 young people in Lanarkshire have now been waiting more than one year for an appointment
Mental health charities in Scotland have stated that they fear the backlog on referrals will continue to grow because of the current climate and COVID-19.
According to Wales Online, there are serious concerns with regards to Wales’ capacity to deal with the increasing demand for people suffering from mental health issues. A new report by Plaid Cymru, a Welsh nationalist and social democratic political party in Wales, compared Welsh NHS mental health services and found that Wales had reduced mental health contacts within the community.
“For people with mild depression, seeing a GP and being prescribed anti-depressants may help albeit in the short term. Without timely access to appropriate treatment, the individual and families suffer, engagement with GP services and local A&E departments (often referred to as ‘revolving door’) increases as people become more desperate for help. There is also research evidence on wait times and the detrimental impact on mental health such as long wait times which have life-threatening consequences for individuals and extreme burden for families.” – Dr. Michelle Huws-Thomas, Mental Health Lecturer and Chartered Psychologist, Cardiff University
A study led by Cardiff University’s Professor Robert Snowden, and Swansea University’s Professor, Nicola Gray, reveals the toll of COVID-19 on mental health in Wales with younger adults, women, and people from deprived areas suffering the most. 12,989 people across Wales participated in the survey with the support of all seven Welsh health boards.
“We examined psychological wellbeing and the prevalence of clinically significant mental distress in a large sample 11 to 16 weeks into lockdown and compared this to population-based data collected pre-COVID-19. It showed a large decrease in wellbeing from pre-COVID-19 levels.” Nicola Gray, Professor, Swansea University
The data from the survey shows lower levels of mental wellbeing during COVID-19 pandemic as compared to data collected in the year prior to COVID-19 pandemic with approximately 50% of the population reporting clinically significant levels of psychological distress and approximately 20% showing severe effects. The effects of gender, age, wellbeing, psychological distress, and deprivation have also been analysed.
Although there is funding in place, processes, and frameworks in progress to focus on mental health in all regions, how long will these strategies take to be put into force?
Researching the increase in mental health issues throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, the common trend is the growth of this complex condition is amongst all age groups and it is a growing concern for the NHS, allied health professionals, and mental health services.
Yes you can make an appointment to see your GP, yes you can be referred to clinical interventions, but how long are you willing to wait? The time and capacity is continuing to grow which is affecting those who need the support the most.
Local charities fear for the future and the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had in their communities. It’s time to put a strategy in place for a non-medical plan to improve mental health and wellbeing.
With the hopes of coming out of lockdown, mental health must be a priority across all regions as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for NHS and mental health services enormously. The fear of losing loved ones, fear of illnesses, social restrictions, limited support, and limited access to improve health and wellbeing has taken it’s toll on people of all age groups.
It is more than likely that the effects of our mental health and wellbeing will continue long after lockdown and COVID-19 and with limited resources, funding, and long waiting lists, there must be an alternative.
This is where the social prescribing model can help people within the communities to take control of their own health. The model of care takes a holistic approach to a person’s health and wellbeing and introduces them into local community programmes and projects to help them build resilience, confidence, self-esteem, and reduce health inequalities, mental and physical health problems without medication and clinical interventions.
The social prescribing model of care can be embedded into health, education, employment, housing, prison, VCSE, and Government sectors to help overcome physical, mental health, and wellbeing barriers.
Although this model is not a new concept, it may still be unknown by most. Elemental has created this poster for you to download to learn the benefits of social prescribing.
Here are some examples of what our customers have been doing to support mental health through social prescribing:
The Life Rooms (Merseyside) are a free NHS service who provide a safe and welcoming space to meet others, access opportunities, challenging stigma and promote positive health, wellbeing and learn about community resources.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Merseycare had to make the difficult decision to close the five doors of their Life Room centres this year. With more than 5,000 people, every month accessing support that was on offer through the centres, it was the right thing to do to keep everyone safe in this current climate.
The team at The Life Rooms came up with a new and exciting plan to bring what The Life Rooms has to offer into the homes of the community by launching ‘The Life Rooms Online’ platform developing more than 80 courses, that have been watched by over 12,000 people. The Life Rooms have reached out to an excessive 8,000 people over the phone to check in on their health and wellbeing, supporting their practical, social, and emotional needs.
To find out more on how The Life Rooms is using digital social prescribing to support people on their mental health journey, check out our case study.
SPRING Social Prescribing is a partnership between Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, Scottish Communities for Health and Wellbeing and the Healthy Living Centre Alliance that help people to address their health and wellbeing by connecting them to sources of support within their communities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, SPRING Social Prescribing has been providing health and wellbeing support through their free online ‘Connect Well’ workshops to everyone over the age of 18 years. The workshops are delivered live via Zoom and SPRING Social Prescribing provide an online course time table to people who register for the workshops.
These workshops are funded by the Department for Communities as part of the Warm, Well and Connected Project, facilitated by the Healthy Living Centre Alliance and delivered by SPRING Social Prescribing.
To find out more on how SPRING Social Prescribing is continuing to support communities across Scotland and Northern Ireland during COVID-19, check out our case study.
Warm Wales work to alleviate fuel poverty in Wales and the South West through various community projects and partnerships. ‘Healthy Homes Healthy People’ is a project within Warm Wales that looks at the home and the impact the home can have on a person’s health and wellbeing. Warm Wales is moving away from single pieces of support from an energy advice point of view to looking at a holistic approach to savings that can be made to a person and the impact it can have on their health and wellbeing and opportunities for social prescribing. The team at Warm Wales has got passion, drive, commitment, empathy, understanding, and because of this, Warm Wales is able to help as many people going forward through the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about Warm Wales, their projects, and individual feedback, listen in on our latest social prescribing podcasts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the wellbeing and mental health of students which has resulted in an urgent need for the North West Regional College college to introduce digital social prescribing. Social prescribing is a growing movement that connects people with a range of non-clinical programmes, services, and events in their local community. It seeks to address people’s needs across a number of areas such as financial stability, accommodation, digital inclusion, physical activity, diet and nutrition, mental health, and social support.
“By embedding Elemental’s digital social prescribing platform into Student Wellbeing and Inclusion Programmes, NWRC can connect students with non-clinical services internally and externally to support a range of issues that impact on student health and wellbeing needs. This means that students will have access to a whole system approach to wellbeing, while also empowering them to take control of their health. It also provides NWRC with the tools needed to provide holistic care for their students.” – Finneen Bradley, Manager of NWRC’s Careers Academy.
The partnership between NWRC and Elemental will enhance student wellbeing, build resilience and promote new ways of working using a replicable model of social prescribing. Co-created referral pathways will ensure students can access support within the college and local community to improve mental health and wellbeing, helping to bridge the gap between education and the wider community.
Read more on the latest partnership here.
If you would like to find out more about how Elemental can help enhance the provision of mental health services, please fill in the form below and we will be in touch.
Who are Elemental?
Elemental is an award-winning Tech For Good company that helps stakeholders in social prescribing and population health management to focus on the wider determinants of health: income, wealth, housing, education, transport, leisure and supports the adoption of health behaviours and lifestyles: smoking, diet, drinking, exercise. Elemental better connects stakeholders, providers of services, and patients with health risks in the places and communities we live in whilst generating data that helps inform the design and delivery of an integrated health and care system.
Find out more
If you’d like to find out how Elemental can enhance and scale the impact of social prescribing in your communities, get in touch or pop your details below to request a 1-1 online demo of the Elemental Platform and the Elemental Connector.