Doctors are seeing an increase in people reporting severe mental health difficulties, says a group of NHS leaders.
Follows a drop of more than 30% in referrals to mental health services during the peak of the pandemic.
But there are predictions that the recent increase means that demand actually exceeds pre-coronavirus levels ̵1; perhaps by up to 20%.
The NHS Confederation said those who needed help should come forward.
But the group, which represents health and care executives, said in a report that mental services required “intensive support and investment” in order to continue being able to help those in need.
NHS Confederation’s mental health director Sean Duggan said that when coronavirus cases were at their highest, people stayed away from services, as they did from other parts of the NHS.
“A&E numbers were declining, medical numbers were declining. The same thing happened in some of our mental health services,” he said, as people tried to ease the burden on health care and sought to avoid catching the virus.
“The concern is, if you leave the problems they can get worse.”
This may explain some of the increase in more severe cases that come forward.
As well as people whose conditions worsened during the blockade, NHS services also expect an increase in demand for mental health services as a direct result of the pandemic itself, the report said.
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He flagged isolation, substance use, domestic violence and economic insecurity as factors that may contribute to the need for additional support.
There are also “particular concerns that the sharp inequalities in service use and recovery levels faced by ethnic black and minority communities will worsen,” the report said.
Mental health providers report that, as well as seeing patients with “most important needs”, a higher percentage of their referrals are patients who are accessing services for the first time.
Providers, meanwhile, envision infection control and social distancing measures will mean they have an estimated capacity 10-30% less than normal.
Mr Duggan said he did not want to “cure everything … it is perfectly normal to feel anxious and worried” at such an uncertain time.
But nonetheless, there has been a “real” increase in people in need of mental health services, he added.
NHS England last week published the next phase of its response to Covid-19, acknowledging that “mental health needs could increase significantly”.
His plan includes expanding services to improve access to psychological therapy (IAPT) – the way to treat the most common, mild to moderate conditions, to which people can refer themselves.
He also said that people cared for by community mental health teams – generally those with the greatest needs – should review their care. People with severe mental illness need to receive more therapy and support, she said.
NHS England also showed off its health and wellness service launched to all health staff.