The mental health of 1 in 4 people has worsened after using NHS mental health services remotely during the pandemic, a new study reveals.
The survey of almost 2,000 people, carried out by charity Mind, focused on people’s experiences of accessing mental health treatment via phone or online since COVID-19 restrictions began.
The report shows that 23% of those surveyed say their mental health deteriorated as a result of remotely accessing the support they were offered, while 35% said they found the service difficult to use.
Almost 2 in 3 said they would have preferred to have been given face-to-face support, and some found it challenging to find a place at home where they could talk without the fear of being heard by others.
One respondent said: “I am in a difficult relationship and therapy at home just didn’t work for me, I was used to having the time for myself to go to therapy and the privacy. I couldn’t talk properly at home.”
The results reveal 10% of the respondents claimed they often or always faced technical issues while using the service.
Head of health policy and influencing at Mind, Geoff Heyes, said: “As restrictions continue to ease, and we begin to deal with the long-term impacts of the pandemic – bereavement, grief, redundancy, and insecure employment – it’s really important everyone is offered a range of options, including face-to-face treatment, so that they can pick the most convenient and appropriate option.
“Online therapy cannot be seen as an easy answer to fixing growing pressures on overstretched mental health services. There is no cheap fix.”
Confidentiality was also an issue with a third of people (34%) reporting privacy concerns.
“Others, however, told us about stressful experiences and concerning breaches of confidentiality," added Heyes. "Nobody should have to worry about the wrong healthcare professional or another client attending a confidential therapy session, for example.
“We know our hardworking NHS staff have done an amazing job during such a difficult time, and we don’t want people to be deterred from asking for the help they need.
“But it is worrying that one in four of those we surveyed said their mental health had worsened because of accessing NHS treatment remotely. At the very least, people should expect their mental health to stay the same, if not improve.”
Concerns were raised about the risk of missing warning signs that someone needs more intensive support.
One respondent said: “Sometimes we are very good at masking what really is happening… there’s been times where I’ve been feeling very low, tearful, down, but I was very good at masking it on the appointment and acting like everything was going well…
“When you have face-to-face appointments the professionals can pick up on your tone of voice, body language, appearance, circumstances, there’s a lot more you get out of when you meet a person face to face than you do on the screen.”
For some people, talking to health professionals remotely has had several positive aspects, with 2 in 3 (69%) appreciating not having to travel.
Mr Heyes added: “During the pandemic, services have quickly adapted to help stop the spread of coronavirus. NHS mental health services delivered over the phone or online have been a lifeline for many, with lots of people telling us having the choice helped with things like childcare responsibilities and working schedules, particularly for those struggling to get to face-to-face appointments.”
Mind is now calling on the UK Government to make sure people who need support for their mental health are offered a choice of treatments – including in-person services – so that they can choose the options that best suit them.
To read the full report, click here.
Written by Hedi Mehrez
News reporter for Talking Mental Health