The government’s winter plan for mental health provides an important reference point for the millions of people struggling with their mental health in the context of COVID-19.
According to the Office of National Statistics, despite a significant rise in mental health issues due to the pandemic, there has been a reduction in the number of referrals to mental health services. This trend, coupled with the Centre for Mental Health predicting that an additional 10 million people will need mental health support in the coming months and years, demonstrates the urgent need for a cohesive and comprehensive mental health plan for the nation.
From the outset of the pandemic we, alongside BACP and BPC, have been calling on the government to expand mental health support, including by making increased use of the specialist skills of the psychotherapy and counselling workforce.
We therefore welcome the announcement of increased support for students and NHS staff, the clear acknowledgement that many people diagnosed with COVID-19 will require psychological support, and an increased focus on signposting services – including the expansion of the NHS’s Help Us Help You campaign.
However, we remain concerned at the time-limited nature of the support for the voluntary sector, which could have been expanded as part of this plan. We also wish to see greater ambition in expanding talking therapy services available in primary and secondary care NHS settings.
It is critical that the government does not underestimate the long-term impact of isolation, bereavement, job-loss and insecurity, chronic uncertainty, and the many other effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health. Even amidst positive signs that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us, therapists understand that the psychological legacy of this period will be with us for many years to come.
If the government are to deliver on the intent of this winter plan, as well as wider efforts to improve mental health services, they will require the invaluable skills of the psychotherapy and counselling workforce. That’s why we have written to the Mental Health Minister offering to work with the government in delivering these ambitions, and we will continue to push for the expanded role of psychotherapy and counselling at this time of national need.