Charities are urging government to collaborate with sector and prioritise the nation’s mental health as depression rates double during lockdown.
The latest figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show one in five (19.2%) British adults experienced depression in June 2020 compared to one in ten (9.7%) when the same group of 3,527 people was assessed between July 2019 to March 2020.
According to the ONS survey, younger adults aged between 16-39, women, key workers, disabled individuals plus those in households unable to afford an unexpected expense were most affected by moderate to severe depression during the pandemic.
Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at Mind said: “It’s worrying to see an increase in the number of people experiencing depression.
“We cannot underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on the nation’s mental health – whether that’s bereavement, the devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, or the recession we are now in.
“We know people already struggling with their mental health or with related issues like problems with employment, housing, benefits and debt have been hardest hit by coronavirus, but recent ONS figures also show how the pandemic has affected people who were previously well and are now experiencing depressive symptoms for the first time.
“As more and more people ask for support for their mental health, well-resourced timely treatment must be available for anyone who needs it.”
Ms Corlett explained that while mental health services turned to digital support during the pandemic, 1.9 million people do not have digital access, which serves to deepen existing health inequalities.
She added: “Continued inadequate access to NHS mental health services will result in a marked increase in the numbers of people experiencing longer-term mental health problems.
“Mental health services need to be equipped to support those who have fallen through the net during the pandemic.”
A letter signed by a coalition of more than fifty voluntary and social sector organisations urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to create a new Mental Health Renewal Plan for England that puts mental health at the heart of the government’s Covid-19 recovery plans.
Samaritans, Mental Health UK, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, Mental Health Foundation, Centre for Mental Health, Young Minds and the Association of Mental Health Providers are amongst the signatories calling for a new cross-governmental approach which collaborates with the sector and provides political and financial backing to develop policy for a mentally healthier society.
Danielle Hamm, associate director of campaigns and policy at Rethink Mental Illness said: “We’re asking the government to work with us to support the nation’s health and wellbeing through this pandemic and in the years that follow.
“This requires a cross-government approach, and we’re calling on the government to establish a mental health renewal taskforce for the NHS, social care and the voluntary sector which delivers parity for mental and physical health.
Ms Hamm added: “We also want to see an ambitious government funding settlement to address the long-term funding of mental health and help meet the anticipated surge in demand.
“And finally we want to see a commitment to valuing and protecting the mental health of the population, also reducing risks for the most vulnerable, as the nation attempts to recover from the widespread economic and societal impact of Covid-19.”
At the height of the pandemic, mental health charities warned the current system would not cope without government intervention as research from the sector pointed to an unprecedented increase in demand for services.
Samaritans reported providing emotional support to people struggling to cope more than 7,000 times a day.
While in a survey by Rethink Mental Illness, over three-quarters (79%) of people said that their mental health had got worse or much worse as a result of the pandemic and the measures to contain it.
Moreover, 42% said their mental health was worse because they were getting less support from mental health services.