Charity warns rising demand for support signals a looming mental health crisis, urges people to seek support if they’re struggling

27 October 2020

  • Over 2.3 million people visited for advice and information in the six months after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the country would go into lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
  • Demand for advice and information doubles compared to the six-month period that preceded the pandemic.

Rethink Mental Illness has experienced a surge in demand for advice and information from the public and is calling for swift government action to avert a looming mental health crisis.

The significant increase in demand comes despite NHS data revealing an initial drop in the number of IAPT referrals at the outset of the pandemic and fuels concern that a mental health crisis will emerge in the fallout of the pandemic.

Analysis of website traffic from the charity revealed significant increases in the number of people seeking advice about specific areas of concern. This includes:

Rethink Mental Illness also reported a 99% increase in traffic to advice and information pages which support carers and highlighted that charities are often the first point of contact for people who are worried about their mental health.

Laura Peters, Head of Advice and Information Services at Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“If you’re struggling with your mental health, or worried about someone you love, it can feel incredibly confusing, disorientating and isolating. Going online is often the first step people take when they’re not sure where to turn, so these statistics indicate a growing public recognition of the impact of the pandemic on our mental health and the need for reliable information and guidance.  

“The rising need for support with issues such as self-harm and suicide is worrying but it doesn’t solely indicate the level of distress that people may be experiencing. It also suggests people are recognising these concerns, being proactive and taking those first steps to help manage a challenging and turbulent time.

“It’s vital that people continue this journey and seek professional support. The message that you don’t have to try and manage everything on your own has never been so important, and we’d really encourage people to ask for help if their mental health is deteriorating.”

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“This surge in demand for advice and information which has coincided with the onset of the pandemic is a sign that we’re witnessing something hugely problematic. While NHS referrals for IAPT services dropped in the initial months of lockdown, the official data doesn’t give us a clear indication of the scale of the problem. We know that people are struggling with their mental health and that problems may be stored up for the future. It’s clear that the government needs to invest properly in mental health now, above and beyond what we’ve ever seen before.

“This also reminds us of our collective responsibility to prioritise our own mental health and support the people around us. We all have a role to play here. While the community spirit witnessed in the first weeks of the pandemic may feel far behind us, we must continue to work together to support each other through a crisis on this scale.”

Tom Dunning, 29, has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, social anxiety disorder and PTSD:

“My mental health deteriorated to the point where my battles with psychosis and suicidal thoughts often left me in hospital. The biggest small step I ever made in my continuing recovery was to ask for help, and it wasn’t until I reached for the support of my wife and my GP that I started to realise something was wrong and I desperately needed treatment and support.

“One of the things that made a big difference was finding a local carers support group run by Rethink Mental Illness. Not only did it provide important support for my wife, but I met other people with the same diagnoses as me. It reassured me that support was there, I wasn’t alone, and that it really is ok not to be ok.”

The insights add to previous research conducted by the charity, which revealed 79% of people living with severe mental illness felt that coronavirus, and the measures to contain it, had caused a deterioration in their mental health.