Impact of the pandemic on mental health services revealed

23rd September 2020

Our new research has revealed that almost half (43%) of people with mental health problems in Scotland felt they did not get care or treatment because of the pandemic. 

The SAMH study – which is the first of its kind – sought to understand the impact of coronavirus on people with mental health problems, and examined areas including care quality, frequency and communication. 

The stark figures, released as the country marks six months since lockdown began highlighted that 45 per cent felt the quality of their treatment had got worse and that their treatment had become less frequent, and 58 per cent agreed that opportunities to discuss their care or treatment had worsened since lockdown began in March. 

The virus has had a tangible detrimental impact on those who were already dealing with mental health problems before the pandemic, with the amount of people coping very or quite badly doubling from almost a quarter (23%) in the months before the pandemic to almost half (45%) by August. Those experiencing thoughts of suicide rose to 59 per cent, up by 3 per cent on pre-lockdown figures and, worryingly, 10 per cent of people had not sought treatment even though they felt they needed it. 

Billy Watson, Chief Executive at SAMH, said:

“It is now clear that the pandemic has caused serious problems for people who need mental health services. Nationwide, fewer people are being referred for or receiving psychological therapies and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and we’re instead seeing a shift away from people seeking professional help and instead turning to friends and family for support. 

“While there have been steps to increase the capacity of mental health services, we now require an ambitious and well-resourced plan to redesign a system that was already under stress before the pandemic. Failure to do so will put lives at risk.”

Communication with service users during the pandemic also suffered, with almost half (42%) receiving no information on how their treatment would be affected by the pandemic, and out of those who had received information, almost two thirds (63%) said they were worried or upset about how the changes would affect them. 

People were more likely than not to be satisfied with most aspects of the support they received since March, particularly in relation to reassurance about access to medication. Despite this, 40 per cent were dissatisfied with the response they received while in crisis.

Confusion around the priority of services and orders to protect the NHS also had an impact, with one person commenting; “I feel like my symptoms have got worse, but I can do nothing about it as we keep getting told to protect the NHS so I have given up basically on seeing anyone.”

Michael, who uses mental health services, said

“I’ve struggled with my mental health for 10 years but the past year has been particularly bad. I was referred for psychiatric treatment in early March and was told they would see me again soon.”

“The ironic thing is shortly after that appointment I was watching the Scottish Government’s lockdown announcement and it said there would be funding for mental health, so I felt reassured support would continue. A few days later a letter arrived to say I wouldn’t be seeing my psychiatrist anytime soon. It’s September now and I  haven’t heard anything since. I feel like I’ve been left high and dry.”

About the research 

  • The survey ran online between 30 July and 25 August 2020, and was completed by 725 people who lived in Scotland, were over the age of 16 and had been referred to, or received treatment from a professional , organisation or service for their mental health at any time since January 2019. The majority of respondents (79%) were female. Most (68%) were aged 25-54, though all age bands were represented. There were respondents from all health boards, with the largest numbers in Glasgow (22%), Lothian (20%), Lanarkshire (11%), Grampian (11%). 95% were white but there were responses from all listed ethnicities
  • This is a longitudinal study: there will be two further rounds of the research, concluding in December 2020