Mental health – UK Government assessment
Policy reforms and increased investment in mental health services have improved access to support and treatment. However, levels of unmet need remain high, particularly for young people. Some groups who share protected characteristics are at increased risk of experiencing mental health problems, self-harm or suicide, and have worse access to and outcomes from mental health services. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is increasing mental health needs, but reducing the capacity of community services to deliver support.
- In December 2018, the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act (MHA) recommended improvements to the MHA to safeguard people’s rights.
- Investment in mental health services and implementation of the Five Year Forward View on Mental Health have led to increased access to mental health services in England. However, this has occurred alongside an increase in demand for services. The number of new referrals for NHS mental health services increased by more than 90,000 between July 2016 and July 2020.
- The UK Government has introduced waiting time standards and targets for some mental health services. However, many people still face long and inconsistent waits to access services, particularly children and young people.
- At the beginning of 2020, fewer than 37% of young people with a diagnosable mental health condition were accessing NHS treatment or support.
- Groups including Black women, unemployed people, boys, people with learning disabilities, people who are homeless and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are at an increased risk of experiencing poor mental health.
- Official survey data shows that the proportion of children aged 5‒16 years in England with a ‘probable mental disorder’ increased from one in nine in 2017 to one in six by 2020.
- The Government’s plan to reduce rates of suicide and self-harm is welcome, particularly as suicide rates have been increasing since 2017. Men remain three times more likely to take their own lives than women, and suicide is the leading cause of death for both men and women aged 20‒34.
- The rate of hospital admissions as a result of self-harm in children and young people in England increased from 407.1 per 100,000 in 2016‒17 to 444.0 in 2018‒19, and certain groups – including girls and lesbian, gay or bisexual children – self-harm at higher rates than others.
- There are no official figures for the number of people in prison in England and Wales who have a mental health condition, but it is estimated that, overall, 90% of prisoners have some kind of diagnosable mental health condition. The number of self-inflicted deaths among prisoners is 10 times higher than the wider population.
- Evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has led to concerns about worsening mental health and the reduced capacity of services to meet needs in the UK.
- One snapshot survey of 2,111 young people with a history of mental health needs found that 32% of respondents agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health ‘much worse’.
- People from ethnic minority groups which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 face a range of inequalities which can worsen mental health outcomes and experience of treatment.
- Social and service restrictions during the pandemic have had specific impacts on the mental health of people who share certain protected characteristics, including pregnant women, children and young people and older people.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on mental health.