NHS pressures mean face-to-face contact is rare
Two years into the pandemic, the majority of mental health support in Scotland is still being carried out remotely, according to a new report launched today.
Still Forgotten is the final of three reports created by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) as part of a longitudinal study investigating the impact of the COVID-19 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 only 13 per cent of those surveyed seeing a movement back towards face to face support.
This is despite over half (54%) seeking a return to in-person support and almost a third (30%) of those receiving mental health treatment not comfortable with remote delivery, creating a challenging and distressing scenario.
Now, 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 (64%) reported no improvement or a decline in their mental health. Over half (55%) of respondents had ‘thoughts of suicide’ in the last three months, and only a fifth (20%) 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 (57%) and the future in general (57%).
Jo Anderson added: “In the coming months, life is only going to get more difficult for many people who experience mental health problems. A clear strategy for providing the right care must be put forward.”
Mary Johnston (32), a student from Edinburgh, took part in the research. She’s currently receiving hybrid mental health treatment, a blend of face to face and phone calls, and supports the call for a return to in-person sessions after seeing the benefits first-hand.
Mary 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. I really value face to face support as you get the personal interaction, and having access to scheduled in-person sessions means my mental health is drastically better than it was during lockdown.
“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.”