Demand for mental health advice soars in year after first lockdown

23 March 2021

Charity sees surge in demand for mental health advice one year after first national lockdown, and warns that NHS and social care mental health services need to be ready to meet increased demand for support from people whose mental health has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

Rethink Mental Illness has reported a significant increase in the number of people seeking advice and information to help manage their mental health since the onset of the pandemic.

In the 12 months since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown, demand for advice and information on rethink.org has grown dramatically, with over 7.5 million pages read by people looking for guidance - an increase of 175% compared to the 12 months before.

There is clear evidence of growing concerns, with significant increases in demand for advice and information about specific conditions including:

- A 703% increase in people seeking advice and information about anxiety
- A 459% increase in people seeking advice and information about self-harm
- A 217% increase in people seeking advice and information about PTSD
- A 199% increase in people seeking advice and information about OCD

Some Britons’ may find that their mental wellbeing improves as restrictions ease. However, Rethink Mental Illness is highlighting that demand for NHS services and social care support for people severely affected by mental illness, including clinical care, housing and employment support, is likely to increase.

Mark Winstanley, CEO, Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“A year of widespread anxiety, social isolation and grief caused by the pandemic has come at a huge cost to many people’s mental health. Despite the optimism that the vaccine has given us, many of the drivers of poor mental health, including unemployment, debt and poor physical health, will be widely felt for many years to come. We must work hard to ensure that those who have felt the impact of the pandemic most acutely not only receive the NHS mental health care they need, but that they can also access the wider support which can help to alleviate those pressures.”

“The majority of people with the right advice and access to support will make a full recovery. However, we are braced to see an increase in demand for NHS and social care support for those who have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Services adapted very quickly to respond to the challenges of Covid-19, but as restrictions ease it is vital that services are configured and funded to meet the anticipated increase in demand. This means a focus not just on NHS services, but adult social care commissioned by local authorities, whose budgets are under enormous strain. We need a well-funded cross-Government plan for mental health as we emerge out of lockdown.”

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

“We know that the last 12 months have taken a toll on people’s mental health, and we would really encourage people to continue to be proactive about their mental health as restrictions ease.

“This is particularly true for people who may have found some comfort in lockdown, away from potential triggers for their anxiety. Being more isolated from loved ones may have also made it harder to spot signs that they might be struggling with their mental health. For example, it’s common for people to self-harm in secret, and we know that the pandemic has been particularly difficult for people managing eating disorders. While a return to ‘normal life’ will be welcome to many, we expect some people already struggling with their mental health will find it even more challenging.

“The pandemic has changed so much in our lives, but the message on mental health remains the same. If you’re struggling, or worried about someone else, don’t avoid or dismiss it. Seek support as soon as possible.”

Katie, 23, who has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, anxiety and an eating disorder said:

“The last year of constant adjustments and changes has been really challenging for my mental health. I was desperate for the end of lockdown, but now it’s looming I’m feeling unexpectedly apprehensive. Despite this, I know I have support systems I can lean on while we all adjust back to normality. I know from experience that reaching out can feel difficult, but there is advice and support available. Resources on rethink.org can show you where to turn and help you through these next steps.”

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