The pandemic is putting mental health care at risk
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the NHS continues to struggle with the high demand it is faced with. In order to control the spread of the virus, all other hospital services, doctor’s surgeries, and health services have gone into lockdown and are adhering to social distancing guidelines. Unfortunately, this means anyone who has a long-term health condition is finding their appointments cancelled.
For those who live with mental health problems this is especially jarring.
People who have waited months for the referrals they need have had their appointments cancelled with no further date. Those who rely on continued treatment to survive can no longer go into dedicated facilities. People who find it hard to leave their own homes can no longer have community care specialists pop in to check up on them.
Back in January, when Coronavirus was a little known of disease that we naively thought would never come here, I self-referred to Talking Therapies.
By the time the appointment came around at the end of March, the country was in the grip of it and I was showing mild symptoms. Due to social distancing rules, face to face appointments are not allowed so I had to have my 6-session course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) over the phone. While it helped a small amount, more than anything the sessions lacked the human connection. Without seeing me, my therapist couldn’t pick up on nonverbal cues of my discomfort or anxiety towards certain subjects, so the session felt rushed and barely scratched the surface.
My problem is at the very low end of the scale, though of course that does not make it any less important. Whilst researching for this piece I spoke to many people from many walks of life who were struggling every day battling a system that had forgotten them.
As I’m English (sorry), I wanted to get a broad view of what the mental health care situation was like in both England and Scotland, to draw parallels between the two.
Rachael, from Airdrie near Glasgow found her therapist appointments cancelled, with no option for telephone or video call appointments. She also hasn’t had a regular medication review so has stayed at the same strength for a while. “It’s made me feel very disconnected from everyone and like I’ve just been left floundering. I understand the NHS are struggling at the moment but I fear the worst for people suffering with mental health who can’t access the help they because this is the worst I have felt in a really long time”
Erin*, from London is 38 weeks pregnant with her second child. As he had Post Natal Depression and Anxiety after the birth of her first child, she was assured from midwives that she would be referred to Mental Health but despite chasing it up several times she has received no care. “I’ve had quite a few complications during this pregnancy and genuinely feel that some mental health support would have helped so much but there has just been nothing. Ultimately I feel really let down – my mental health has really suffered during this period and despite literally begging my midwives for help, nothing has happened.”
Charlotte moved from East Dunbartonshire to Glasgow just before lockdown, her fortnightly sessions with a therapist are gone. It was only after 10 weeks of calling her GP and pharmacy that she was only able to get her anxiety medication, which in turn exacerbated her anxiety. “Mental health care in Scotland has never been great, so the challenges that come with lockdown have made an already broken system even worse”
Amber, from Derbyshire also struggled to receive the medication she needed. Knowing that lockdown would impact her mental health, she attempted to get an increase in her antidepressants dose. Unfortunately, medicine shortages meant that her pharmacy couldn’t get hold of the correct doses. “I felt so guilty pestering my GP during the pandemic that I eventually stopped trying, resulting in a decline in my mental health and an increase in panic attacks. Which is what I knew was trying to prevent in the first place.”
Before lockdown, Charlie from Glasgow attended weekly group therapy and fortnightly individual sessions, but now they only get a 20 minute weekly check in over the phone. “I feel like I’ve lost quite a lot of support and it’s lead to me feeling quite afraid, I have much less of a safety net.” It’s also deeply frustrating as I was starting to make good progress in therapy and I’m worried that without the right support in place, I may end up back in hospital.”
Lisa from Glasgow was urgently referred back to outpatient psychiatry in February but had her second and all subsequent monthly appointments cancelled when the virus struck. She is finally due to have a telephone appointment this week “I agree with the lockdown and think it was absolutely necessary, but I feel like amongst it all patients with mental health issues were forgotten about. I feel like we were left and “othered” in a way we’ve been fighting against for a while”
Dr Earim Chaudry, Medical Director of men’s health platform Manual (https://www.manual.co/) is concerned for the future “It’s too soon to tell what the long-term effects of this period will be, but already we are seeing spikes in mental health-related emergency call-outs, as well as a rise in cases of domestic violence and suicides. Beyond the pandemic, we expect to see a significant increase in cases of depression and anxiety, particularly as unemployment and personal debt grows.”
It is understandable that the NHS is prioritising Coronavirus, but it is horrifying that mental health care is suffering as a result. I’m worried that if this continues there will be a lot of deaths during the pandemic that are not caused by the virus.