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One in four say their mental health worsened after receiving treatment remotely

A new report has revealed issues with accessing NHS mental health support services, with many saying their mental health deteriorated as a result – however positives, such as shorter waiting times, were also discovered.

30/04/21

One in four say their mental health worsened after receiving treatment remotely

A new report looking at people’s experiences of accessing mental health treatment remotely via phone or online during the pandemic has found widespread issues with ease of access and outcomes.

The ‘Trying to Connect’ report is based on a survey of almost 2,000 people by mental health charity Mind.

More than one in three respondents (35%) said they found support from NHS mental health services given over the phone or online difficult to use, while one in four (23%) say their mental health deteriorated as a result of using this support.

Of those who took up the offer of support by phone or online, two thirds (63%) said they would have preferred face-to-face support, while one in three (34%) said they were ‘often or always’ worried about confidentiality.

One in ten people (10%) said they ‘often or always’ had technological issues and a further quarter (25%) of people ‘sometimes’ experienced technological problems.

Respondents who took up the offer of mental health support by phone or online did however cite a number of important positives, with two in three (69%) appreciating not having to travel.

Almost half of respondents (47%) said they were grateful for greater flexibility over appointment times and two in five (40%) said that waiting times were shorter.

Responding to the survey findings, Geoff Heyes, Head of Health Policy and Influencing at Mind, said rates of poor mental health were already high across the country even before the pandemic and services have quickly adapted to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

“NHS mental health services delivered over the phone or online have been a lifeline for many, with lots of people telling us having the choice helped with things like childcare responsibilities and working schedules, particularly for those struggling to get to face-to-face appointments.”

“Others, however, told us about stressful experiences and concerning breaches of confidentiality. Nobody should have to worry about the wrong healthcare professional or another client attending a confidential therapy session, for example.“

Due to the “important advantages” mentioned, as well as the disadvantages to accessing treatment remotely, Mind is calling on the UK Government to make sure people who need support for their mental health are offered a choice of treatments – including face-to-face – so that they can choose the options that best suit them.

“We know our hardworking NHS staff have done an amazing job during such a difficult time, and we don’t want people to be deterred from asking for the help they need,” Heyes said, continuing: “But it is worrying that one in four of those we surveyed said their mental health had worsened because of accessing NHS treatment remotely. At the very least, people should expect their mental health to stay the same, if not improve.”

“As restrictions continue to ease, and we begin to deal with the long-term impacts of the pandemic – bereavement, grief, redundancy, and insecure employment, it’s really important everyone is offered a range of options – including face-to-face treatment - so that they can pick the most convenient and appropriate option. Online therapy cannot be seen as an easy answer to fixing growing pressures on overstretched mental health services. There is no cheap fix.”

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