Lockdown could cause a mental health crisis in Scotland unless we act now – Miles Briggs MSP

Amid the lockdown, the number of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services has dropped dramatically, suggesting young people are not getting the help they need, writes Miles Briggs MSP.

By Miles Briggs
Thursday, 30th April 2020, 4:45 pm
People in need of help from mental health services are still able to get it and should not suffer in silence
People in need of help from mental health services are still able to get it and should not suffer in silence

How are you? It’s a question before lockdown we would often ask friends and family but quickly answer OK, fine, not bad, then move on and not really take a moment to ask ourselves if we really are OK.

The UK has now been in lockdown for the last six weeks, and with schools shut many people, especially young people, have experienced raised levels of anxiety during what is a difficult and stressful time.

Mental health services across NHS Lothian are working incredibly hard and I want to pay tribute to all those working in these services. I know from conversations I have had over the last few weeks with individuals and families currently being supported by local NHS Lothian mental health services how much they appreciate the support and care being provided during the challenge of the lockdown.

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It is understandable that adjustments have had to be made to the delivery of children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions, with more sessions being carried out remotely.

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Last week in the Scottish Parliament, I asked the minister for mental health about how many young people have been referred to CAMHS during lockdown. In response, the minister told me that 1,133 young people in Scotland were referred to CAMHS between 23 March and 24 April.

Dramatic fall in number of referrals

Comparing these latest figures against the previous year’s data indicates that the monthly referrals should be closer to 2,800, showing an approximate drop of over 50 per cent.

Such a dramatic and sudden reduction in referrals is deeply concerning and it suggests that young people might be avoiding doctors, despite very real need. It is vital that everyone who needs help seeks help and I would urge anyone in distress to get in touch with your GP, the NHS is open and here to help.

Over the last decade, CAMHS waiting times have more than doubled, leaving many vulnerable young people without the early access to physiological services they desperately need.

Lockdown has forced everyone to change how they work and it is an opportunity to take a new approach to the provision of mental health services and support, which is needed to meet the increase in demand.

A holistic approach

CAMHS services are needing to adapt and be more flexible in providing remote mental health support and this approach can be continued post-lockdown. This method will not suit everyone, but having a service that can be versatile, with the patient making choices about their treatment has been proven to be successful.

As part of a holistic approach to mental health support for young people, the development of mental health training for teachers is a crucial part of the strategy.

Teachers and youth workers have a lot of contact with young people and increasingly understand the importance of looking after a young person’s mental health.

I have called on SNP ministers to work with the many mental health charities providing support and for a redesign and reform of mental health services and the support available to help the third sector to prepare the country for what will be a significant mental well-being challenge to already overstretched services post-lockdown and this public health emergency.

We must act now to develop the support that will be needed as we come out of the Covid-19 lockdown and make sure that this public health emergency does not turn into a mental health crisis.

Miles Briggs is a Lothian MSP and Conservative health spokesman

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