Spike in 'severe and complex mental illness' since lockdown

Fewer referrals to mental health services during the pandemic are thought to be driving the increase in issues now.

Glasgow experiences spike in ‘severe and complex mental illness’ since Covid lockdown iStock

Mental health services across Glasgow are seeing an increase in “severe and complex illness” after new figures revealed fewer people were referred during lockdown.

A freedom of information request (FOI) submitted to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) confirms that the number of patients referred to mental health community teams or admitted to an inpatient ward dropped between 2019 and 2021.

In 2019, 62,176 people were advised they needed support by the community team or inpatient ward compared to 49,324 in 2020. The figure rose to 58,196 in 2021 and sat at 29,087 by the end of April this year. 

NHSGGC says that with fewer people referred to a mental health service during the pandemic, they are now seeing an increase in severity and complexity of illness

A spokesman for NHSGGC said: “Throughout the pandemic, we made significant adaptations to mental healthcare service delivery based on an increased need for healthcare generally as a result of Covid-19. 

“An example of that was the establishment of two Mental Health Assessment Units, which were set up to provide specialist care and treatment for those facing a mental health crisis. These units reduced pressure on emergency departments and have remained in operation following their successful roll-out.

“However, our mental health teams have seen an increase in severity and complexity of illness faced by those accessing mental health care, particularly in unscheduled care and adolescent mental health services.”

The spokesman said that the NHS was aware of increased levels of psychological distress in accessing primary care services during the pandemic and that the number of complex cases experts were dealing with now could be caused by lockdown.

He added: “This [increase in illness] may have been caused directly by impacts associated with the pandemic or, as in the case of other acute illnesses, exacerbated by people holding off accessing care during lockdown periods. 

“We have also been aware of the increased levels of psychological distress present in those accessing primary care during the pandemic.

“Providing support to those who are experiencing issues with their mental health remains a priority and help is available to those in need. As always, we would urge anyone who is experiencing issues with their mental health to seek support through their GP or by phoning NHS24 on 111.”

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