The charity Rethink Mental Illness has raised the alarm at NHS figures, showing a sharp increase in the number of people referred to mental health services during the pandemic, experiencing a first episode of psychosis.
Analysis of NHS data reveals a steep upwards trend in the number of referrals after the first lockdown was eased, with significant increases recorded over recent months. More than 13,000 referrals were made this year in May, a staggering 26% increase on the year before. The growth was also sustained throughout June, with a 21% increase in referrals to mental health services compared to 2020.
In a statement, Rethink Mental Illness linked the rise in referrals for psychosis with the significant levels of distress across the UK pushing growing numbers towards crisis. The charity pointed to numerous studies that have acknowledged increased rates of conditions such as anxiety and depression in the wake of the pandemic.
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Psychosis can involve auditory or visual hallucinations and/or the development of beliefs that aren't based on reality, which can be highly distressing in many cases. It can be a symptom of a mental health condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression. However, it can also be a one-off, triggered by a traumatic experience, extreme stress, or alcohol and drug misuse.
Rethink Mental Illness is highlighting the importance of rapid access to treatment to prevent further episodes and escalating symptoms, despite the already mounting pressure of the backlog on mental health services.
“The pandemic has had a game-changing effect on our mental health, and it requires a revolutionary response”
Currently, the public health body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has guidelines for people experiencing a sustained first episode of psychosis, stating that they should receive an assessment within two weeks. However, as the pandemic’s backlog of referrals builds up, more people will have to wait longer for necessary treatment.
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Brian Dow, deputy chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: "Psychosis can have a devastating impact on people's lives. Swift access to treatment is vital to prevent further deterioration in people's mental health, which could take them years to recover from.”
“These soaring numbers of suspected first episodes of psychosis are cause for alarm. We are now well beyond the first profound shocks of this crisis, and it’s deeply concerning that the number of referrals remains so high. As first presentations of psychosis typically occur in young adults, this steep rise raises additional concerns about the pressures the younger generation have faced during the pandemic.”
"The pandemic has had a game-changing effect on our mental health, and it requires a revolutionary response. Dedicated additional funding for mental health and social care must go to frontline services to help meet the new demand; otherwise, thousands of people could bear a catastrophic cost."
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