Nearly a quarter of mental health patients (23%) wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment because of a lack of consultant psychiatrists, according to research published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
The poll of 535 British adults was released to coincide with last week’s World Mental Health Day.
More than two fifths (43%) of those polled – who all had a mental illness including eating disorders, addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression – said the wait between initial referral and second appointment, the point when treatment usually starts, had caused their mental health to worsen.
The figures were an indication of a “hidden waiting list” for mental health patients beyond the already record waits many are experiencing for NHS treatment, the college said.
More than three-quarters (78%) of those on such a hidden waiting list reported that they had been forced to resort to emergency services or a crisis line in the absence of mental health support.
Mental ill health
This included 12% going to A&E, 7% ringing 999, 16% contacting 111 and 27% turning to a crisis line. Waits could be longer than six months for 12% of cases, while 6% of patients wait for more than a year, the college added.
Patients whose mental health deteriorated said that it had also led to financial problems such as debt, struggles with work resulting in job loss, as well as relationship difficulties, including divorce and family breakdown.
Dr Kate Lovett, presidential lead for recruitment at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “We cannot sit idly by and watch the most vulnerable people in our society end up in crisis. Not only do spiralling mental health waiting times wreak havoc on patients’ lives, but they also leave NHS services with the impossible task of tackling rising demand.”
Young people struggling
Separately, research from the mental health charity Mind has found that two in five young people (40%) say they do not have the words to express how they are feeling when they are struggling with their mental health.
The study, which included a survey of 906 UK 16- to 24-year-olds, revealed the vast majority of young people – nine in 10 (91%) – were turning to creative outlets to help them express their feelings when they are struggling with their mental health.
More than half (55%) were listening to music, almost a quarter (23%) were writing down their thoughts in journals, and one in 10 (10%) were writing a song, rap or spoken word piece.
The mental health needs of young people are increasing rapidly, with recent NHS figures showing that over 65,000 young people aged 19 and under were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in April, a 109% rise compared to the same month pre pandemic, said Mind.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “After an incredibly challenging couple of years with the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis, our mental health has taken a huge toll.
“We know that the earlier a young person can get support for their mental health the more effective it’s likely to be. But we also know that, sometimes, finding the words to say how we feel is tough. You can feel like you’re talking another language, and that one no one else understands. It can make getting the support we need, harder,” he added.