The mental health charity, Mind is urging the importance of face-to-face treatment as the NHS releases multiple job adverts for “virtual” psychiatrists and therapists

These roles come as recent NHS data has found one in six young people have struggled with some kind of mental health problem this year, this is up from one in nine before the pandemic. The NHS have also reported that there is currently a record number of under 18s reaching a mental health crisis, whilst less than half of those reaching out for help are being seen face to face.

Mind also broke down further findings from their research:

  • ‘2,260 children were referred for urgent mental health treatment in June 2021’: the highest ever number recorded in this month
  • ‘during the pandemic, urgent and emergency referrals for young people jumped by as much as 90% compares to the same month the previous year’
  • ‘only 45% of appointments are face to face with this age group’: throughout June 2021

With the enormous demand and pressure on mental health services currently, it is easy to see how virtual treatment and appointments could be a solution. For many, who may not have a complex history of mental health problems, they offer a more accessible service and at a lower cost to the NHS.

What are the limitations?

For those who do experience complex mental health issues that require a more nuanced understanding and a relationship built on trust between a GP, psychiatrist, therapist and their patient; face to face treatment is often the only kind that is successful.

People who experience the distressing symptoms of bipolar disorder, major depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and dissociative disorders have reported difficulties with virtual support. Mind also said: “Mental health professionals have also raised concerns that a lack of face-to-face treatment is fuelling an increase in people reaching crisis point.”

This sentiment is backed up by more research from Mind:

  • ‘Nearly three quarters (72 per cent) wanted face to face support.'
  • ‘Nearly half of young people (47 per cent) found phone and online treatment difficult to use, often or always had communication problems and felt uncomfortable speaking about their mental health in this way.’
  • ‘More than half (55 per cent) were concerned about confidentiality.’
  • ‘Of those young people who were given phone or online mental health support during the pandemic almost a third (32 per cent) said remote treatment made their mental health worse.’

In light of this, Mind is calling on the government to provide additional funding that can be immediately utilised to increase face-to-face mental health treatment. Mind is pushing for this with increased urgency as the recent investment announced for the NHS and social care recovery makes no mention of mental health care.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind has said:

“The UK Government faces a stark decision – either invest in mental health or see thousands in crisis. It is simply unacceptable that some of the most vulnerable people in our society, those who require the support of mental health specialists to be able to live in their communities, are not being seen in person. This not only fails to help people get better, it puts them at risk. People with mental health problems tell us day in and day out how important it is to be able to see someone face to face – whether that’s for talking therapy, a medication review or psychiatric support.”

Speaking on the limitations of over the phone appointments, Mind included the lived experiences of Niamh O’Connor from Merseyside and Taylor Simmons from Devon in their statement. O’Connor who lives with an eating disorder said: “Over the phone you can’t read their body language or see what their face is doing. It would make me really anxious if they said they were phoning at a certain time and then didn’t. I stopped answering the calls and disengaged which meant I got discharged from all services and was left without anything. This led to my mental health deteriorating and I ended up going into hospital for five months.”

Simmons, who has OCD also spoke on the fact that remote treatment worsened his mental health, “The strain of lockdowns and the pandemic started having a huge impact on my mental health. I referred myself to my local talking therapy support, where sessions were delivered through video calls. This made me anxious. I was concerned that I would not be able to speak freely during these sessions and I had to get support from a local charity to get a free space away from home where I could talk openly. I’m also autistic which makes new forms of communication stressful and hard to navigate.”

Mind believes in the undeniable positive impact of face-to-face support and insists that in person early on intervention is the key to preventing young people’s mental health from reaching crisis. To join their campaign for community hubs that would provide this in person support, find out more information here.