Wales is facing “a perfect storm of mental illness” because of the covid pandemic, a Senedd committee has heard.
Health Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to put mental health at the centre of its covid recovery plans after hearing from a range of experts on the impact of the pandemic on mental health.
The Committee has raised “serious concerns” about people’s access to mental health services and has heard worrying evidence about the lack of available support.
The mental health charity Mind Cymru found that more than half of adults and three quarters of young people reported that their mental health had worsened during the lockdown period.
It also found that 18 per cent of adults and 39 per cent of young people who tried to access mental health support have been unable to do so.
This lack of support ranges from early intervention and primary support services to crisis care in an emergency.
The Committee wants the Welsh Government to make sure that mental health experts and evidence are part of decision-making when it comes to pandemic and recovery planning. This is to make sure that both the short and longer term mental health impacts of the pandemic are central considerations.
Dr Dai Lloyd MS, Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee: “COVID-19 has brought many challenges, not just in terms of its physical effects but also its impact on people’s emotional and mental wellbeing.
“Being cut off from family, friends and other support networks for long periods of time has had a profound effect. We know that more than half of adults and three quarters of young people feel their mental health has worsened during the lockdown period.
“Wales has been through a national trauma over the last nine months and the Welsh Government must recognise that the effect on people’s mental health is a serious consequence of the pandemic.
“Whether because of lockdown restrictions causing loneliness and isolation, job losses, financial hardship or bereavements, people need access to mental health support and treatment like never before.
“The need for parity between physical and mental health has been a recurring theme throughout much of the Health Committee’s work and COVID-19 has brought this into sharp relief.
“It is simply not acceptable that mental health services are not prioritised in the same way as physical health and this cannot be allowed to continue.”
The Committee said it believed that the ongoing effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health and wellbeing makes access to mental health support even more important. It says mental health services should not be de-prioritised during this time, or during any further waves of Covid-19, and the mental health workforce should be protected from redeployment.
Although the Committee says it recognises that it is too early for official data to show whether the pandemic is having an effect on suicide rates, it strongly believed that there should be action now to mitigate the risks, not waiting for the statistics. It says many of the risk factors for suicide will be exacerbated by the pandemic.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists reported seeing an increase in suicide attempts and self-harm, both in young people and older adults, but suggested the main impact is yet to come.
The Royal College told the Committee: “I think what we have created is a perfect storm of mental illness. We know that there are three very well-known risk factors for both depression and suicide, and, unfortunately, COVID, and the restrictions that have been associated with them, and the outcome of those, have increased those risk factors.”
The Welsh Government has set up a task and finish group for suicide prevention, and the Committee is calling for the Welsh Government to closely monitor any emerging impact on suicide and self-harm rates as we move through the pandemic.