In a poll of 2,000 adults, it was found that 50% of respondents who were offered services said it made no difference or even worsened their mental health. And more than half (57%) who thought about seeking mental health support found considerable barriers in accessing services.

Data from the survey, the UKCP said, indicate that the traditional routes of support are not suitable to most people. And instead of relying on NHS services, many over the last year have taken matters into their own hands by confiding in a family member or friend or falling back on unhealthy coping strategies such as using recreational drugs and alcohol.

Not nearly enough people are attempting to access professional help

Despite almost half (45%) of UK adults experiencing a negative impact on their mental health because of the Covid-19 pandemic, 77% did not attempt to access any professional help. Those whose mental health had been negatively affected throughout the last year identified several barriers to seeking professional help:

  • 23% didn’t think their mental health was severe enough to seek help.
  • 14% felt embarrassed or ashamed.
  • 13% didn’t know how to talk about the issue.
  • 13% were concerned about long waiting lists.
  • 12% didn’t think it would be helpful.

Moreover, when people actually did access support, many reported that this intervention did not always improve their situation, possibly the UKCP suggested because only “quick fix” solutions are on offer.

Sarah Niblock, chief executive of UKCP, commented: “The results of our study are worrying, and they point to a mental health system that can be ineffective and inaccessible to many in the UK. It’s forcing some people to take their mental health needs into their own hands and side-stepping professional help in the process… This study shines a light on the need for more, better-signposted support and greater choice in mental health treatment."

GPs need to be more cautious of using antidepressants as a “quick fix”

Emphasising the need for choice and underlining the potential adverse effects of antidepressants as the initial go-to intervention, 56% of responders to the survey said that antidepressants alongside other support either made no difference or actually worsened their mental health.

On the other hand, 40% of those offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), another commonly offered intervention, felt that this, along with other forms of support, had improved their mental health.

The UKCP said that there seems to be an overreliance on the prescribing of antidepressants, as 38% of people using NHS mental health services were given antidepressants, compared to 32% for CBT and 21% for counselling.

Martin Pollecoff, chair of UKCP, responded to the survey: “Mental health needs are complex and require very different levels of support… Our study highlights that well-used interventions like antidepressants can have negative effects on people’s mental health, and we are seeing more evidence of the relative effectiveness of psychotherapy and counselling compared to antidepressants, CBT and mental health apps. We need a mental health system that is strong enough to cope with the complexity of these needs.”