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Ten million people in England will need support for their mental health, experts say

Centre for Mental Health analysis says COVID-19 will cast five-year shadow over nation’s mental health.

13/05/21

Ten million people in England will need support for their mental health, experts say

The Government needs to invest now in extra support for the mental health of people worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, according to an analysis published by Centre for Mental Health.

Published during Mental Health Awareness Week, the analysis uses a new model of the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on the public’s mental health, finding that the risks are greatest among those who have been most personally affected by the crisis. This includes people who have lost loved ones to the virus, those who have survived severe illness, and those who have cared for people in the midst of the pandemic.

The model reinforces previous forecasts that ten million people in England will need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic, including 1.5 million children. The analysis also finds that the aftermath of this mental health crisis could last for up to five years.

The model is based on an analysis of over 200 high quality studies from around the world which provide intelligence about the likely effects on people’s mental health. It identifies the groups of people most likely to be affected, including families of those who sadly died during the pandemic – as well as the health and care staff who kept them alive, especially those working in hospital intensive care units.

The model also warns that a recession following the pandemic could increase the numbers further if there is widespread and prolonged unemployment.

The number of people needing mental health support in the model is three times higher than the current capacity of mental health services in England, the charity says.

While the NHS is already investing in additional mental health services, at the current rate of expansion it will not keep pace with growing demand, the Centre warned.

As a result of the findings, the charity says it is now vital to develop services to meet the specific needs arising from the pandemic – such as specialist bereavement support and evidence-based help for those with trauma symptoms after working or being treated in intensive care.

Report author, and Chief Economist at the Centre for Mental Health Nick O’Shea, said it is “imperative” that the Government, the NHS and local councils ready themselves to respond to the aftermath of the pandemic. “Just as the virus is novel, so too are some of the mental health challenges which emerge,” O’Shea said.

“Meeting the mental health needs that arise from COVID-19 is not optional. Just as responding to the threat of the virus itself has tested every nation’s resilience and resources, so will addressing the psychological and emotional consequences. There is time to prepare, but the window to do so is limited and we cannot wait and see what happens before making the decision to act decisively.

“The Government’s mental health recovery action plan makes a start but it must now be followed by a clear strategy to put in place services that can offer timely, evidence-based and effective care to people whose lives have been scarred by the events of the last year.”

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