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Call for mental health funding amid surge in ads for virtual psychiatrists

The UK government has been urged to fund mental health services amid a flurry of advertisements emerging for ‘virtual’ psychiatrists and therapists.

Mental health charity Mind has warned that while virtual appointments offer a way for the health service to see more people at a lower cost, many people require face to face appointments to manage their mental health and prevent their conditions worsening.

Mental health professionals have also raised concerns that a lack of face-to-face treatment is fuelling an increase in people reaching crisis point.

Chief executive of Mind Paul Farmer said: “People with mental health problems tell us day in and day out how important it is to be able to see someone face to face – whether that’s for talking therapy, a medication review or psychiatric support. This isn’t a nice to have, for some this is necessary.”

One in six young people had a mental health problem this year, up from one in nine before the pandemic . There are also record numbers of under 18s reaching mental health crisis and fewer than half of appointments with this age group are being carried out face to face. 

Mind adds that the highest ever number of children – 2,260 - were referred for urgent mental health treatment in June 2021 alone. During the pandemic, urgent and emergency referrals for young people rose by as much as 90 per cent compared to the same month the previous year. Yet only 45 per cent of appointments are face to face with this age group June 2021.

The charity is calling for additional funding for mental health services, following concerns that none of the investment announced for NHS and social care recovery has been earmarked for mental health.

Mind reveals that:

  • Almost a third of young people who were given a phone or online mental health consultation during the pandemic said remote treatment had worsened their mental health.
  • Nearly three quarters (72 per cent) wanted face to face support.
  • Nearly half of young people (47 per cent) found phone and online treatment difficult to use, often or always had communication problems and felt uncomfortable speaking about their mental health in this way.
  • More than half (55 per cent) were concerned about confidentiality.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “Young people have really had to bear brunt of the pandemic when it comes to mental health. Increasing numbers of under 18s are reaching crisis. We owe it to our children and young people to stop defaulting to giving them the cheap alternative to face-to-face treatment and instead offer them the choice they need.

“The UK government faces a stark decision – either invest in mental health or see thousands in crisis. It is simply unacceptable that some of the most vulnerable people in our society, those who require the support of mental health specialists to be able to live in their communities, are not being seen in person. This not only fails to help people get better, it puts them at risk.

“We must urgently see a clear commitment from the UK government to properly resourcing the NHS to offer people the mental health treatment they want and need,” he concluded.

Mind is campaigning for the government to fund a network of community hubs where young people can get mental health support early on, without needing to meet NHS clinical thresholds.

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