The group of MSPs, charities and other stakeholders found uncertainty and delays have compounded stress, anxiety and worry for many.
Services supporting people with mental health problems should be better connected to ensure those seeking help do not run into dead ends, according to the latest research from the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Mental Health.
The Inquiry into the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health calls for better links to be established between all services which engage with people with mental health problems, as it found uncertainty and delays have compounded stress, anxiety and worry for many since the start of the pandemic.
It also demonstrates the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of people affected by social and economic inequalities, highlighting “serious gaps” in support for these people which must be urgently addressed.
Isolation and/or loneliness were mentioned in 88% of people’s responses to calls for evidence, as many were removed from their support networks and had limited access to healthy coping mechanisms, such as talking to friends or families.
The inquiry’s key recommendations include prioritising mental health and wellbeing by increasing investment in community-based mental health and bereavement support services, with research from the Centre for Mental Health predicting the next three to five years will see an additional 50,000 people require support due to post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, depressive symptoms, and prolonged grief caused by the pandemic.
It also shines a light on the disproportionate effects the pandemic has had on people who are traditionally underrepresented in population-level research. One member stated: “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re in different boats.”
To help support better mental health care, the inquiry calls for marginalised groups to be placed at the centre of decision-making concerning the pandemic and Scotland’s recovery, and for the voices of people with lived experience to be meaningfully incorporated in policy and practice.
It also makes recommendations including expanding social prescribing opportunities to improve access to physical activity and horticultural therapy.
The report, written by SAMH in its capacity as Secretariat to the Cross Party Group on Mental Health, heard directly from people with experience of mental health problems as well as organisations and professionals working with them.
In addition to input from its own member organisations and individuals, the group gathered responses from a range of fellow cross party groups, such as those focused on chronic pain, muscular dystrophy and Scotland’s gypsy/traveller population.
Oliver Mundell MSP, co-convener of the Cross Party Group on Mental Health, said: “While everyone has been affected by the pandemic, the experience has not been equal, with delays and interruptions to community-based support services disproportionately impacting people already affected by social and economic inequalities.
“We must learn from the experiences of people who have contributed to this research, whose stories lay bare the gaps in our mental health care system.”