In April 2021, psychiatrists warned that the United Kingdom may be in the depths of a mental health crisis. The number of people seeking help for issues such as anxiety and depression climbed to record numbers in 2020. In fact, these numbers were so high that the National Health Service (NHS) struggled to meet the demand for mental health services. Affirming this in October 2021, Somerset, a mental health organization, said that the U.K. is facing a “mental health pandemic.”
4 Facts About Mental Health in the United Kingdom
- COVID-19 significantly impacts mental health in the United Kingdom. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in October 2021, that at the height of the pandemic, 21% of adults in Great Britain suffered depression. This is an uptick from the pre-pandemic level of 10%. Furthermore, nearly 75% of these adults reporting symptoms of depression attribute those symptoms to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Mental illness is on the rise among the youth. The U.K. Children’s Society indicates that “in the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem” has risen by 50%. Exacerbating these issues further, about 75% of youth suffering from mental health issues do not receive the mental health assistance they require. Dr. Santiago Nieto, a general practitioner who works at Northampton’s County Surgery, told the BBC in November 2021 that “there is far more anxiety, more depression, more cases of suicide or attempted suicide and more serious self-harm.”
- Geography matters in the case of mental health in the U.K. Research shows that mental health issues are more common in certain areas within the U.K. For example, the Health and Social Care Board finds that mental diseases such as anxiety and depression are more prevalent “in children and young people in Northern Ireland” in comparison to other areas of the U.K. This survey is the first of its kind, and though it is unclear why this disparity exists, researchers find that an array of factors contribute to the rising levels of depression, including “family trauma, adversity, poor health and disability.” Furthermore, according to the ONS, “adults living in the most deprived areas of England” are twice as likely to experience depression as those living “in the least deprived areas of England.”
- Unemployment strongly affects mental health. According to the ONS, adults facing unemployment are 50% more susceptible to depression than employed adults. Noting a situation prompting further inquiry, The Health Foundation released a report in April 2021 examining the relationship between mental health and unemployment, especially amid COVID-19. The report finds that “the relationship between mental health and unemployment in the U.K. is bi-directional,” meaning that strong mental health can help an individual secure a job and losing a job can damage mental health. The report estimates that the rising unemployment rate in the U.K. will worsen the mental health of “an additional 200,000 people” by the end of 2021.
NHS to the Rescue
Despite the challenges of mental health in the United Kingdom, there is a strong apparatus in place to address the challenge. In 2008, the NHS introduced the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program, which has since become one of the most recognized mental health programs in the world. The IAPT utilizes talk therapies to treat people with anxiety and depression in England. Due to its success, the NHS is expanding the program. New goals aim to reach nearly 2 million adults with IAPT services by 2024. Program expansion will also focus on “supporting people to find or stay in work” amid rising unemployment.
COVID-19, rising unemployment, growing depression and anxiety rates among the youth as well as unequal access to care presents a complicated problem for the United Kingdom, which will require creative solutions. However, the nation remains steadfast in its commitment to improving mental health in the United Kingdom with the support of the NHS and countless organizations.
– Richard J. Vieira