The number of people in contact with mental health, learning disability and autism services has risen by nearly 500,000 in four years, according to new NHS data.
Over 1.85 million people were in contact with mental health, learning disability and autism services at the end of November 2023, up from 1.36 million at the end of November 2019.
Most people reached out for support from adult mental health services (1.2 million) or children and young people’s mental health services (444,904). The number of people in contact with learning disability and autism services has more than doubled to 266,575.
Mental health services are struggling to meet this rise in demand for care due to chronic staff shortages and a lack of resources. One in seven medical posts in NHS mental health trusts in England were vacant as of September 2023.
It is estimated that around 75% of mental disorders emerge by the age of 24. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on Government to introduce and commit to a target to reduce the prevalence of mental health conditions and severe mental illness in all age groups.
This must be backed by investment in community mental health services to help reduce the number of people having a relapse of their mental illness and presenting to emergency departments in crisis.
Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:
“The country is in the grip of a mental health crisis which shows no sign of easing. The pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have fuelled a rise in cases of anxiety, depression and other serious mental illness which can be life-threatening when left untreated.
“We’re seeing more and more people arriving to services in need of urgent care and they often require more complex and long-term treatment.
“This crisis is not inevitable as the majority of mental illness is preventable and treatable. Psychiatrists help thousands of people to make a full recovery every year and early intervention is often the most effective way of preventing people from developing more serious conditions.
“The first step to tackling this issue must be to reverse the rising rates of mental illness. We’re calling on Government to introduce a target to bring numbers down and provide services with the funding and resources they need to achieve it. This includes ensuring services have the staff they need by recruiting more people into the mental health workforce and supporting existing staff to remain in it.”