What impact has Covid-19 had on mental health services?


For Mental Health Awareness Week, we are looking at how everyone can play a part in providing communities that care for people severely affected by mental illness. One of the key components of such a community is having high-quality, accessible mental health services for people that need them. Here’s Alex Kennedy, our Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs, explaining what impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on England’s mental health services.

One of the reasons that the Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for people living with mental illness is that many have found it harder to get the support they need from mental health services.

The truth is that for people who are severely affected by mental illness, even before the pandemic it was often hard to get the support they needed, with many people being told that they are too unwell to be supported just by their GP or other primary care services, but not ill enough to get the specialist help that they need.

The recent NHS Long Term Plan was therefore very welcome as it has made improving these services a priority, with the funding to match.

But just as that strategy was getting underway, Covid-19 has come along.

We wanted to use some recent quotes from people who took part in our survey of people living with mental illness to explain what the disruption caused by the pandemic has meant for their mental health and the care they get.

For some, it means that they have just not got the care they were expecting. One person told us “I have been on the waiting list for admission to hospital since last July, I came to the top of the waiting list but then they said that they had to close the unit because of Covid-19, people who were already in there had to be sent home and put on the waiting list for re-admission, so they will have priority over me.”

For many people, services that would have been face to face are now taking place over the phone or video conferencing.

Although for some people that works well:

  • “My face-to-face appointments have become phone calls, which in some ways is more convenient.”

  • “It has been so much easier to get hold of my GP and mental healthcare.”

For others it is either less effective:

  • “Over zoom I am constantly stressing that my family can hear what I am saying, so the confidential space my end isn't really a safe space causing anxiety”

  • “As I now have phone consultations that is very difficult for her to see how severe my mental state really is.”

Or just doesn't work at all:

  • “Everything is done by phone or zoom and I am phobic about both”

  • “I have been offered and tried phone support but don't find it helpful and am increasingly unwell.”

And the fact that it has become more difficult to access healthcare services affects people’s physical health too. We have heard from a number of people that it has become difficult to get routine appointments for vital blood tests that are needed to keep people on some psychiatric medications safe, or that pressure on testing labs has led to samples going missing.

It is very concerning that 42% of those who responded to our survey told us their mental health had got worse during the pandemic because they are getting less support from services.

It is testament to the vital importance of mental health services that scaling them back even for a short time can have such an impact. The challenge now will be how to adapt the way that services work, listening to the needs of people severely affected by mental illness – including the many people who struggle with only being supported remotely.


Join us on our journey to creating communities that care for mental illness. Here's five ways that you can get involved.