Psychiatrists are warning of a ‘tsunami’ of mental health issues in the months ahead, as people struggle to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic and patients stay away from health services due to fears around becoming ill.
More than four in 10 (43%) psychiatrists in the UK have seen an increase in urgent and emergency cases following the COVID-19 lockdown, according to a new report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych). At the same time, 45% of experts have witnessed a fall in routine appointments, leading to fears of a surge in demand when the pandemic and lockdown restrictions ease.
In particular, psychiatrists are worried about a drop in routine appointments with young people and older patients, with Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and old age psychiatry seeing sharp declines in those attending sessions. RCPsych now wants investment in mental health services to be prioritised, to enable services to cope following the Coronavirus peak.
The concern follows a survey of more than 1,300 mental health doctors across the UK, with psychiatrists worried that patients are staying away until they reach a crisis point. The pandemic is also making it harder for services to offer routine appointments, despite doctors quickly adapting to new ways of working, such as digital consultations and social distancing. At the same time, the Office for National Statistics has found that almost half the UK population (49.6%) has reported high levels of anxiety since the crisis began.
RCPsych president Professor Wendy Burn said: “We are already seeing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on mental health, with more people in crisis. But we are just as worried about the people who need help now but aren’t getting it. Our fear is that the lockdown is storing up problems which could then lead to a tsunami of referrals. Mental health services will be at risk of being overwhelmed unless we see continued investment.”
The decline in routine care is thought to be caused by people self-isolating and shielding, school closures and fear of hospitals, while the biggest rises in urgent and emergency cases have been for psychiatrists working with adults and those working in general hospitals.
Loss of work and income, the pressures of working from home and homeschooling children, fears about loved ones and social isolation can all contribute to a detrimental impact on our emotional wellbeing, with the pandemic showing little sign of easing and a second wave predicted by many health professionals.
Anxiety and depression can, in turn, affect other areas of our health, including poor sleep, weight loss or gain, physical aches and pains, nausea and even thoughts of self-harm and suicide. In addition, alcohol support organisations are experiencing a rise in calls, both from recovering alcoholics and from people worried about their drinking or that of someone close to them during lockdown.
A number of our health insurance partners offer telemedicine and digital GP appointments among their benefits, while many also provide counselling and support. This can come via 24/7 phone lines manned by trained professionals or in the form of health smart apps, allowing you and your family to manage non-critical physical and mental health needs on your phone or tablet. In addition, our partner Bupa has a regularly-updated Coronavirus hub offering invaluable resources and support for members.
With mental health and wellbeing support now a staple of most private medical insurance policies, this could be the right time to do some research into the best policy for you. Our health insurance is designed for individuals, couples and families, depending on your needs, and you can tailor your package to the budget you can afford.