Coronavirus: Do we have a mental health emergency in the UK?

Becky Banham
By Becky Banham,
updated on Jun 30, 2020

Coronavirus: Do we have a mental health emergency in the UK?

Mental health charity Mind predicts a rise in the prevalence of mental health problems. Is the worst of this pandemic yet to come?

A survey of more than 16,000 people during lockdown by the charity Mind has revealed the scale of the impact of the pandemic on people with mental health problems.

More than half (65%) of adults over 25 with an existing mental health problem have reported worse mental health during the pandemic, while one in five adults (22%) with no previous experience of poor mental health now say that their mental health is poor or very poor.

The picture is also bleak for the youngest of society. Three-quarters (75%) of young people aged 13-24 with an existing mental health problem have reported worse mental health during the pandemic.

This corroborates the findings of a recent Barnardo’s survey of 4,000 children and young people aged eight to 24 in Britain, which found more than a third are experiencing increased mental health difficulties during the Coronavirus lockdown, including loneliness, worry, sadness and stress.

What is causing poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Not being able to see people (79%), not being able to go outside (74%) and anxiety about family and friends getting coronavirus (74%) were the main drivers of poorer mental health during lockdown.

Another major disrupter to wellbeing throughout the pandemic has been employment status. Those who were unemployed and seeking work during the pandemic were more likely to have lower wellbeing scores and worse mental health than those who were in employment.

Those who were furloughed, changed jobs, were made redundant or lost their job due to coronavirus saw their mental health and wellbeing decline more than those whose employment status didn’t change. Three quarters (73%) reported lower than average wellbeing scores compared to two thirds (66%) of those whose employment didn’t change.

Of those who tried to access NHS mental health services, one in four (25%) were unable to get support. A further one in three adults and more than one in four young people did not try to access support during lockdown because they did not think that their problem was serious enough.

Data has also shown a fall in referrals to NHS talking therapies and Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and a dramatic drop in the number of people detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act in March.

Mind predicts that prolonged worsening of wellbeing and continued inadequate access to NHS mental health services, will see a marked increase in the numbers of people experiencing longer-term mental health problems.

The charity also warns that the easing of lockdown won’t address many of the underlying issues and, if anything, the worst is yet to come. The prediction is that the impact of unemployment, financial difficulties and housing issues on mental health will grow, as government-led emergency support measures come to an end and recession bites.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “The coronavirus pandemic is as much a mental health emergency as it is a physical one. The devastating loss of life, the impact of lockdown, and the inevitable recession that lies ahead will leave a deep and lasting scar on our nation’s mental health.

“Those of us who were already struggling with our mental health have fared worst, but we also know that many people who were previously well will now develop mental health problems, as a direct consequence of the pandemic.”

“As we look to the future, those in power must make the right choices to rebuild services and support, and to ensure that the society that comes after the pandemic is kinder, fairer and safer for everyone experiencing a mental health problem.”

How can the UK recover from a mental health emergency?

Mind is calling for mental health to be at the very centre of the UK Government’s recovery plans. The charity has today announced five key tests for the UK Government, as part of its recovery plan for mental health:

  • Invest in community services: Extra investment for local mental health and social care services in England, to help people stay well.
  • Protect those most at risk: Provide targeted support for groups most at risk of developing mental health problems as a result of the crisis. This includes addressing inequalities faced by people from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic communities.
  • Reform of the Mental Health Act: An outdated and discriminatory legislation.
  • Provide a financial safety net through the benefits system: Prevent people with mental health problems falling into poverty.
  • Support children and young people: Understand the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and put this at the heart of recovery plans in England.

You can find Mind’s report Mental Health After Coronavirus: 5 Key Tests for Government, along with the full survey report on their website.

Worried about how coronavirus is affecting your mental health?

If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, isolation, or anxiety, or feel like your work or personal relationships may have been negatively impacted, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Help is available.

  • Mental health clinic Smart TMS is offering a free helpline providing support to anyone struggling with the impact of COVID-19. Lines are open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 9am-5pm, with a priority hour for NHS workers 9-10am. Call 020 3855 4578 or find out more on their website.
  • The Help Hub is offering a much needed talking space and access to professional therapists, wherever you live. Simply visit to book a free 20-minute call or video call with one of their qualified therapists.
  • If you’re seeking longer-term or ongoing support, you can find a verified therapist on Counselling Directory. Currently listing more than 14,000 professional counsellors offering online therapy, you can find the right therapist to help you navigate this difficult time, and beyond.

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