Coronavirus: Lack of mental health support 'devastating'

By Ben Price
BBC News

Published
image copyrightGetty Images

People with mental health problems are struggling to access support during lockdown, charities have warned.

In north Wales mental health patients have been discharged during lockdown.

Mind Cymru said people had been struggling to make contact with their local NHS services, and it was "vital" they were able to cope when restrictions were eased.

The Welsh Government said access to mental health services was "essential" during the pandemic.

While the number of referrals for NHS mental health services fell at the start of lockdown, most areas are now seeing referrals rising, with some almost back to pre-virus levels, the Welsh NHS Confederation has said.

Meanwhile, charities, who offer help and advice, have reported an increase in people contacting them since the start of social distancing restrictions.

Hafal said four times as many people had contacted them for support in March and April, compared to in January and February.

'It has been a lot more difficult'

image copyrightLaura Moulding
image captionLaura has recently been diagnosed with ME which she said had increased her anxiety

At the start of lockdown Laura Moulding was optimistic.

But as the restrictions continued, the 23-year-old found reading the endless bad news stories made her depression and anxiety worse.

Laura, from Cardiff, has severe depression and psychotic symptoms, and said things had got worse since the stay at home restrictions were brought in.

"It made things very bad and I sometimes wake up wondering why am I actually waking up," she said.

"So I think in recent weeks it has been a lot more difficult."

Laura, who was recently diagnosed with ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, said not being able to access NHS support services would be "quite devastating" for some people.

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In north Wales, Betsi Cadwaladr confirmed it had taken a "difficult decision" to discharge mental health patients, advising them to seek new referrals once the coronavirus crisis eases.

But the health board has since said it will review all recently discharged patients.

Head of policy for Mind Cymru Simon Jones said people were struggling to get hold of local services for advice and support, while others were worried about seeking help in case they caught the virus.

"It's vital we know there's capacity within those services when we come out of the lockdown period," he said.

"I think there's a lot being done behind the scenes but it needs to be shared more widely.

"We need a clear plan of what services are available so people have the confidence to reach out.

"We also need Welsh Government and local health boards to give a clear idea of what services will be available in the coming weeks and months."

image captionMental health patients have been discharged in north Wales and advised to seek new referrals, a letter revealed

Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation Darren Hughes said mental health services were still available but coronavirus meant they had to be delivered "differently".

"The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented situation which has affected us all, and we know people who require mental health support will be finding this period significantly harder," he said.

Mr Hughes said the current situation would continue for "some time" and health boards were reviewing services and making changes to respond to needs.

"Everyone working within the Welsh NHS wants to get mental health support services running normally as soon as we can, but this is dependent on the status of the virus in Wales and the threat to people's lives," he said.

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A Welsh Government spokesman said it was working closely with charities to provide support during the pandemic.

"We have announced a further £3.75m to extend the mental and emotional support to children younger than year six in schools and to support the school workforce," he said.

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