23rd March 2021
New research published by SAMH is exposing the devastating impact of the pandemic on people with mental health problems, as Scotland marks 1 year since the first lockdown.
People with mental health problems have seen their wellbeing and access to support deteriorate, due to the significant and continued challenges they’ve faced throughout the pandemic.
The latest research report by Scotland’s mental health charity reveals how people with mental health problems and the services designed to support them have been affected since the country first saw coronavirus restrictions come into force on 23 March 2020.
The experiences of over 1,000 people with existing mental health problems were gathered through three surveys and a series of 15 in-depth interviews from across Scotland between August and December.
Over half (56%) of participants in our final survey in November felt their mental health had worsened recently, compared with the start of the pandemic.
Yet they could not rely on getting the support required: While the majority (64%) of participants tried to speak to their GP about their mental health during the pandemic, 1 in 10 (13%) were unsuccessful. And over a quarter (27%) of respondents to the final survey said their specialist treatment or care had stopped entirely because of the pandemic.
Billy Watson, Chief Executive at SAMH said,
“As we come to the one year anniversary of the first lockdown, it’s clear that more must be done to ensure people struggling with mental health problems are not forgotten. Today’s findings show that the coronavirus pandemic has hit people with mental health problems hard, and the experiences they have shared with us as part of this research must be recognised.
“But coronavirus was not the sole cause of the mental health crisis in Scotland. Services were already struggling prior to the pandemic. We must now see face to face support return as soon as it’s safe to do. And as we move out of restrictions, better support and care must be made an absolute priority.”
Hayley Mathieson, 36, from Dunfermline took part in the research. She has experienced mental health problems for a number of years, and her struggles to get support began soon after the first lockdown,
“Before lockdown I was taking part in 10 week group therapy programme, which I found helpful. I missed week 8 because I had cold symptoms and by week 9 we were in lockdown, we got a letter saying services had been suspended and the way it was worded made it feel like you were very much alone, it felt like a gut punch.
“After chasing my appointments I have managed to see my psychiatrist. Because of the type of medication I’m on, I’m supposed to have appointments every 3 months and that’s not happened throughout the pandemic. I can’t get my medication through my GP and sometimes it’s been hard to get in touch with the psychiatrist, at times I ran out of my prescription.
“Contacting NHS staff has felt impossible, I feel like I’ve been hit by a tidal wave trying to figure it out which way I'm being swept. I’m grateful that I do have some coping skills from therapy and I’m undergoing treatment because I imagine it’s really hard to make that first step.”
Hayley’s story is sadly not unique. The research also found that the pandemic itself has knocked people’s confidence in accessing support. People reported feeling like a burden and anxious about adding to the pressure of the health service by asking for help and support.
The move away from face to face mental health support was isolating for some people, and for many, it meant an inconsistent offering of mental health support, or a complete pause, at a time when they needed help the most.
You can read the full report here. Scotland’s mental health deserves better. We’re calling on the next Scottish Government to make mental health a priority. To find out how you can help, visit samh.org.uk/standup.