'Worrying' report reveals most mental health support is still remote

More than half of respondents to a SAMH's study said they were seeking a return to in-person help.

‘Worrying’ SAMH report reveals majority of mental health support still carried out remotely after pandemic iStock

Two years on from the beginning of the Covid pandemic, the majority of mental health support in Scotland is still being carried out remotely, a new report has found.

On Thursday, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), released Still Forgotten, the final of three reports as part of a longitudinal study investigating the impact of the Covid pandemic on people with existing mental health problems.

It found that despite government pledges to remobilise the NHS, the majority of mental health treatment is still being carried out either online or by telephone, with just 13% of those surveyed seeing movement back towards face to face support.

This is despite over half seeking a return to in-person support and almost a third of those receiving mental health treatment not comfortable with remote delivery.

A 32-year-old Edinburgh student who took part in the research is currently receiving hybrid mental health treatment.

Mary Johnston said: “During the pandemic it was incredibly difficult accessing mental health support. I couldn’t access my GP for my regular appointments to help me keep on top of my mental health and my medication. This gradually changed but it was slow and lockdown rules did not make sense in that my support workers could not come into my house, but others could.

“I currently receive a mix of in-person sessions with SAMH and phone calls through my GP, which are still not as regular as before lockdown.”

Ms Johnson added that face-to-face support is “really valued” and having access to an in-person session has resulted in her mental health being “drastically better” than during lockdown.

She added: “For me, having the option for a complete return to face-to-face sessions would provide me with the best support in managing my mental health.”  

As the Scottish Government prepares its new mental health and wellbeing strategy, SAMH is urging the government to consider the findings and not to forget people living with mental health problems.

Jo Anderson, director of influence and change at SAMH said: “Despite recent moves to remobilise the NHS, people taking part in this research overwhelmingly told us that support, both from GPs and specialist mental health services, is still mostly delivered remotely. We also found that there has been little perceived improvement during the pandemic period to peoples’ experience of mental health care and treatment.

“Our first two reports published in 2020 found that those accessing remote support did not feel they received the level of care they needed. For the same situation to be happening two years on is worrying.

“The pandemic-induced backlog in accessing support is now coupled with the cost of living crisis and associated financial anxieties and stresses. This is a critical time to have the right support available to those who need it most, and we urge the Scottish Government to consider the findings of the report within the new mental health and wellbeing strategy.”  

When asked in the survey to reflect on how their mental health had changed at the end of year two of the pandemic compared to year one, almost two thirds reported no improvement or a decline in their mental health. 

Over half of respondents had ‘thoughts of suicide’ in the last three months, and only a fifth reported a reduction in thoughts of suicide as restrictions eased.

Participants also lack confidence that they can access the mental health care and treatment they need when they need it, with more than half reporting challenges including poor experiences with telephone consultations and the inability to see the same GP consistently.

As the country continues to recover from the pandemic, the impact on people’s resilience may be long-lasting, with the majority of survey participants feeling anxious around social occasions and the future in general.

Ms Anderson added: “In the coming months, life is only going to get more difficult for many people who experience mental problems. A clear strategy for providing the right care must be put forward.”  

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