1.8m episodes of mental illness as a result of the pandemic

Press release
25 October 2021
  • £4.9bn recovery funding over three years for mental health services needed to tackle mental ill health in the aftermath of the pandemic and the worst backlog in NHS history 
  • £3bn capital investment, plus £1bn for day-to-day running of mental health estate over the next three years, to ensure existing hospitals are safe 

Millions of people in England will struggle with their mental health in the next few years as a result of the pandemic. 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that significant investment is needed in this spending review to respond to the 1.8m new presentations, recurrences or exacerbations of mental ill health expected as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic until 2023.  

Years of underinvestment in mental health have also created the largest backlog in the history of the NHS with 1.5 million people currently waiting for care with mental illnesses such as eating disorders, addictions, severe anxiety or depression. 

Increased demand due to COVID-19 combined with anticipated population increases between now and 2029 may mean that demand will not return to pre-pandemic levels. 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for £4.9bn recovery funding for mental health services in this spending review to tackle the largest mental health backlog in the history of the NHS, bring NHS Long Term Plan targets back on track and treat mental ill health in the aftermath of the pandemic.  

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:  

“Tokenistic mentions of mental health make no difference to the lives of the millions of people, who are stripped of their dignity while having to wait for treatment. What they need, instead, is significant investment to build better mental health in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

“Mental health shouldn’t be at the bottom of the list of Government priorities in this spending review.  

“Capital investment in the mental health estate, new facilities and workforce funding can make it possible for more people to gain faster access to treatment. Investment will not only help reduce waiting times but will also improve quality of care for mental health patients.” 

Crumbling NHS buildings, leaking roofs and faulty equipment paired with the inability to implement Covid safety measures such as social distancing is putting mental health patients at risk.  

The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that a £3bn capital investment, plus £1bn for the day-to-day running of the mental health estate is required over the next three years, to ensure existing hospitals are safe. Part of this money should be used for completing the work to eliminate dormitories and address mixed sex accommodation, as well as for building new or redeveloping existing facilities for community mental health services.  

It’s also calling for £535m in this spending review to build the first six new mental health hospitals from the total of the 12 needed by 2030.  

Urgent investment in the workforce is also needed to reduce waiting times and ensure that demand for psychiatric care can be met in the future.  

Sarah, 22, from Norwich, who’s lived with an eating disorder and self-harmed throughout her teenage years, said: 

“Multiple long waits for mental health treatment have meant my recovery from an eating disorder, poor self-esteem and self-harming has taken far too long.   

“At my lowest I was self-harming around 100 times a day, but it still took me five years to receive the treatment I needed to better manage my mental health and bring an end to the self-harming that has gripped me since my teenage years.   

“I’m now as well as I ever have been thanks to the treatment I’ve received from psychiatrists and mental health staff, but I could have been on the road to recovery sooner if I hadn’t had to wait so long for care.”  

John, 34, from Devon, waited four years for the treatment he needed after he tried to take his own life, said: 

“Things got so bad for me that I felt the only way out was to try and kill myself.   

“It took four years to get the regular treatment I needed to get well, but in that time my self-harming increased, I stopped showering, didn’t leave the house, and lost so much weight because I couldn’t face going food shopping.   

“Having got the right treatment my life is now back on track, but I can’t help but look back on those four years as wasted ones.” 

Read the Royal College of Psychiatrists’  2021 Comprehensive Spending Review report.

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