The current NHS waiting time to get an appointment with a health professional can be up to 18 weeks. It has been proven that waiting a lengthened time to get access to mental health services can be detrimental to mental health. Yet little is being done to improve these waiting times and progress is not being made fast enough to cope with the growing mental health crisis. Something needs to happen so that children and young people are not being left to suffer. Too many lives are lost and change needs to start now.
Warning: This blog contains information on suicide, self-harm and other distressing topics.
The amount of people who report mental health problems is on the rise. Not just for adults by also for children. Following on from the pandemic, this means that an additional 500,000 young people may need support from mental health services. With July 2021, seeing the highest recorded number of young people in contact with mental health services. This is putting pressure on an already underfunded and exhausted system, increasing waiting times, which is making access to mental health services more difficult.
NHS waiting times
Since Covid-19, the NHS has struggled with getting people appointments and many have been stuck on waiting lists. Unfortunately, access to mental health services has also been affected. Currently, the average NHS waiting times for mental health appointments is 9 weeks, although this varies in different counties, it can be much longer. In Hampshire for example, this extends to 18 weeks on average.
Currently, 1.6 million people are on the waiting list to receive mental health services. Worryingly, a further 8 million cannot even get on the waiting list as they are not deemed unwell enough. This figure involves people suffering from a range of mental health problems including those who have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts. People who need access to mental health services. Over 9 million people have asked for help, only 1.6 million have been offered the help and those people have been told they have to wait an average of 2 months to receive it.
Information for Children and Young people’s mental health services is similar. Data showed that before the pandemic 34% of children had their referral closed before they got treatment and 33% were still on the waiting list at the end of the year. This can only have been greatened with the pandemic and the increase of children with probable mental health conditions.
Why does waiting time matter?
Longer waiting times can have a negative impact on the mental health outcomes of patients. Having early access is essential to a faster recovery and the consequences of waiting for treatment is harmful. The worsening of mental health conditions along with a greater chance of individuals disengaging with mental health services have been reported. It takes a lot to ask for help. To be told that after having the courage to ask for help you now have to wait, potentially over 2 months, or even worse you don’t need help is shocking.
Whilst with other physical conditions, the impact of waiting times can be seen more obviously, mental conditions make it more difficult to see the impact. That is until it is too late. Ultimately, waiting times and not having access to services can impact suicide and self-harm rates. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children and young people and there has been a rise in suicide rates in this population. It has been reported that 25% of 11–16-year-olds, and nearly 50% of 17–19-year-olds with a mental disorder have self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
Suicide represents the extreme end point of mental illness and therefore not having access to appropriate mental health services certainly impacts this. The costs of extreme waiting times matter; that is more time suffering and the increased risk of people taking their life.
Is any progress being made?
Mental health in the UK has been underfunded and neglected. With the pandemic, this was only exacerbated. The NHS is struggling and change needs to happen. Recently, a new proposal has been made to tackle the backlog in elective care but this failed to mention what plans are being put in place for the recovery of mental health services. A long term plan has now been set in place, which has committed to increased funding to improve and expand the services.
However, there are still questions over whether such an ambitious plan will actually be carried out. It has been suggested that this mental health plan is not enough after the decades of inaction and stark mental health inequalities embedded within UK institutions. Also, there are questions over whether change can happen quick enough. Considering the urgent need to address the current mental health crisis and prevent more suffering and loss of life.
Today 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year and 1 in 6 of those aged 6-16 have a probable mental health condition. Considering 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14, if appropriate support is not available, this can be detrimental to children’s future health. As it has already been seen 1.6 million people are waiting to access the services they need and a further 8 million cannot access the services they need. This problem is only going to become larger until real and immediate action is taken.
What has been done?
Charities have been and are currently trying to help with this. Offering essential mental health services from free help and advice, peer support, local support, helplines to counselling.
Also, charities are campaigning to bring awareness to the mental health crisis and the lack of changes within government. This amazing work is vital but it should not have to be. Having immediate access to mental health services when you need them should be available without question or wait.