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Mental health services in England under 'unsustainable pressure'

Image of counselling
Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

The NHS Confederation and Centre for Mental Health have published a report concluding that “mental health services in England are under unsustainable pressure and a huge change is needed."

The report highlights the fact that people currently requiring help are unable to access the care services they need, and that the system is unable to cope with increased demand since the onset of the pandemic.

It also focuses on “a dearth of investment and a lack of government focus on mental health provision means that staff and services are stretched to capacity with many now under crippling and unsustainable pressure.”

The report suggests a ‘10-point vision’ of changes mental health services need to make within 10 years in response, which includes recommendations on prevention, early intervention and whole-person care.

Additionally, it champions more focus on workforce development and offering services through innovative means, with improved choice and access being an important component of this.

This also includes recommendations to provide more diverse talking therapies that can better meet individual needs, alongside improving their integration with other services.

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) was also targeted as needing improvement, with suggestions being made that its scope needs to be increased to ensure that no one is turned away due to being considered ‘too complex’, and to prevent Eurocentric psychological interventions being the only treatments provided.

Finally, the report also calls on the government to publish the 10-year cross-government plan for mental health.

Head of Policy and Public Affairs for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Martin Bell, said in response to the report:

“We share many of the concerns highlighted in this report and agree that profound change is needed.

“This report paints a picture of what should have changed by 2032 – but the huge rise in demand for mental health support means the Government must begin work on this change immediately.

“We need to see an urgent and renewed focus from the Government on mental health – and our members and the counselling professions must be a critical element of this.

“In particular, we continue our call for UK Government to bring forward their commitment to a fully funded 10-year mental health plan as soon as possible. This should be underpinned by a comprehensive NHS workforce plan, with sufficient funding and which fully reflects and involves the counselling workforce.”

Pollution linked with increased risk of mental health issues

A newly published study has found that air pollution caused by traffic causes an increased risk of several long-term mental and physical health conditions.

The study involved 364,000 participants across England with the aim of finding out if air pollution has any link to long-term health conditions.

With its sample size, it is the largest study of its kind.

The results found that increased exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) released by traffic pollution was associated with a significantly increased chance of developing two long-term health conditions or more.

The strongest increase in risk observed was associated with the co-occurrence of respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological and common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Lead researcher Amy Ronaldson said:

“People with more than one long-term health condition have a lower quality of life and greater dependence on the healthcare system.

“Our research has indicated that those people that live in areas of higher traffic-related air pollution are at greater risk of having multiple health conditions.”

Sharp increase in young people living with mental health concerns

NHS research has found that rates of self-harm, issues with sleep, and overeating disorders are increasing at an alarming rate across England.

The annual study was carried out on responses from 2,866 people aged 7-24 years using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

This assesses for a range of mental health components, such as behaviour, relationships and problems with emotions.

Specifically, it found that 18% of children aged 7-16 years most likely have a mental health disorder, with 25.7% of 17-19-year-olds most likely having a mental health disorder.

While the number of 7-16-year-olds with a probable mental health disorder is high, it is a small change from the 2021 figure of 17.8%.

However, this is a significant increase for 17-19-year-olds from the 17.4% seen in 2021.

Overall, these figures are big increases from those recorded in 2017 when 12% of 7-16-year-olds and 10% of 17-19-year-olds had a probable mental health disorder.

Policy and Impact Manager at the Children’s Society, Amy Dicks, said:

“We laid bare the horrifying scale of mental health issues affecting children and young people.

“One in six younger children are struggling with a mental health disorder, as many as during last year’s lockdown, showing that children are in desperate need of long-term support.

“However, the crisis in children’s mental health long pre-dated the pandemic, with a failing system turning children away or making them wait months on end for treatment.

“We want early support hubs in every community so young people can get immediate support when issues arise, and the government to measure children’s wellbeing so it is easier to identify those who are struggling and provide targeted action and investment preventing mental ill-health.”

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