NHS mental health helplines have answered around 3 million calls from people struggling with their wellbeing during the pandemic.
The 24/7 NHS mental health crisis helplines were originally intended to launch in 2023/24 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, but were fast-tracked to open last year to address the increase in demand for mental health support caused by the pandemic.
The helplines provide over-the-phone treatment or referral to A&E if necessary, and allow for people to call on behalf of someone else who may be struggling.
Lines are also open to professionals who may interact with people experiencing poor mental health.
According to figures from NHS England, almost 3 million calls were made to the helplines between May 2020 and May this year across all of the nation's 54 mental health trusts.
Of those, fewer than 2% were referred to A&E or required an emergency response from an ambulance or police.
“We know that many more people have experienced mental health crisis since the start of the pandemic, including some with no previous experience of mental health problems," said Paul Farmer, chief executive at leading mental health charity Mind. "This incredibly testing time has particularly impacted the mental health of certain groups including young people, people of colour and those living in deprivation.
“It is good to see the NHS speeding up its plans to ensure that when people reach this point, the right help is available quickly, across the country.
"We want to continue to see the NHS offering a range of treatment to people with mental health problems, including face to face appointments, as well as support early on, so that fewer people experience the distress of reaching crisis point.”
The long-term goal for these helplines is to connect them to NHS 111 to allow for anyone to access specialist mental health support at any time.
Prior to the launch of the helplines, the only option for people in need of urgent help was to travel to their local A&E or dial 999.
The result has, for many years, been an overrunning of A&E departments and thinly-stretched emergency services attempting to deal with issues they may not have been appropriately trained for.
Helping to direct cases of poor mental health to more relevant services is part of the NHS Long Term Plan, with the 24/7 crisis helplines being a key tool to do so.
The first set of helplines – due to be launched in March this year – were intended for adults only, while helplines specifically for children were slated by launch in 2024.
With the added pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic, the helplines have quickly been launched to help people of all ages.
“These crisis lines have been fast-tracked because we knew how important they would be in our toolkit to support people in crisis during the pandemic," said Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health. “All our mental health services for both adults and children are still available, with many offering more flexible options such as video and phone consultations to improve safety for patients and staff alike.
"If you need support with your mental health, you can still access existing services or speak to your GP about your needs."
If you live in England and you feel like you may be experiencing a mental health crisis, you can find the details of which local helpline to call here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health