Brits to be offered counselling for COVID depression under £500m mental health plan

Suban Abdulla
·4-min read
Sad adult woman sitting on dark home corridor floor.
Focus will especially be on young adults, aged 18 to 25, including university students, amid worries this generation's chances and well-being have been wrecked by the crisis. Photo: Getty

People whose mental health has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic will be able to seek counselling for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress, under new plans.

The UK government's £500m ($690m) expansion of NHS mental health services will allow 1.6 million people to receive help in the next year, according to ministers.

Under the Mental Health Recovery Plan, focus will especially be on young adults, aged 18 to 25, including university students, amid worries this generation's chances and well-being have been wrecked by the crisis.

It will also specifically target frontline staff.

Services will also expand to community groups helping people most affected by the pandemic, as well as debt advice and outreach schemes for loneliness and isolation.

Children with complex trauma will also be able to receive help under the new expansion.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that those with severe mental illness will also "benefit from enhanced mental services in the community, backed by £58m for better, joined up support between primary and secondary care." This included specialist mental health staff "embedded" in primary care.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said that the "Recovery Action Plan" backed by £500m of funding will help "accelerate the expansion of mental health services" and give people the help they need.

"As part of our response to this global pandemic we not only want to tackle the public health threat of coronavirus but ensure our clinicians have the resources to deal with the impact on people’s mental health," he added.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Women struggling with more anxiety and loneliness than men

There have been several warnings from charities and other professional organisations about the state of mental health services and the impact of the pandemic. Last year, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said mental health services were "overflowing" with patients.

Research has already begun to explore the prolonged impact of COVID-19 social restrictions on our mental health. One UK study found the rates of mental distress in the general population increased from 18.8% to 27.3% between the spring of 2018 and spring 2020.

Official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that women are suffering from more anxiety and loneliness than men as a result of the pandemic.

ONS said women were more likely to be furloughed, and consistently spent more time on unpaid childcare and unpaid household work throughout the pandemic.

At the beginning of the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020, women spent 55% more time than men on unpaid childcare. However, in September and October 2020, women spent 99% more time on unpaid childcare than men.

As a result, women reported higher anxiety, depression and loneliness than men.

Women reported significantly higher anxiety than men at almost every point between 20 March 2020 and 7 February 2021, continuing a pre-pandemic trend.

The difference between men and women's level of loneliness and depressive symptoms was largest from June 2020 onwards, implying that changes in levels of depression and loneliness were preceded by changes in anxiety.

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The mental health ramifications of the pandemic has also seen many people turn to online help.

According to data from charity Rethink Mental Illness, the number of people turning to its website for advice about mental illness doubled in the six months since the first lockdown, with 1.69 million visits since March compared with 829,645 in the six months before.

There has also been an increase in those seeking help because of suicidal thoughts, from 80,298 to 232,271, while numbers for anxiety disorders went from 73,456 to 210,931, and those for self-harm from 16,920 to 56,418.

Nadine Dorries, minister for mental health and suicide prevention, urged those in need of support to "reach out."

NHS England's national mental health director, Claire Murdoch said: "The pandemic has turned everyone's lives upside down and has been really tough on mental health which is why we have ensured NHS services have remained open while also treating tens of thousands of COVID patients."

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