There is no doubt that we have seen an increase in problems for those people already struggling with a mental illness. For them, the coronavirus outbreak has amplified their circumstances and things are much harder. The impact of Covid-19 on mental health has been devastating, and recent research by Mind has found that two-thirds of adults and three-quarters of 13-24 year olds with a pre-existing mental health issue said that it had become worse during the lockdown. And new figures show that one-fifth of vulnerable people in Britain have considered self-harming or suicide during lockdown.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has reported that some 43% of psychiatrists have seen an increase in emergency and urgent cases, and they prediict that a ‘tsunami’ of referrals is on the way for the UK. The Centre for Mental Health forecasts some half a million more people will experience mental health difficulties over the next 12 months or so as the stresses around work and home life and the economy take their toll. But if there is a second wave as predicted by many scientists including Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, and the economy is damaged still further, the effects on mental health will be greater still and the effects may well last much longer.
Obviously, the workforce in the mental health industry will need to grow in order to meet this predicted increase in demand and the Government has a plan to address this by recruiting some 24,000 staff by 2023-24 in order to fulfil the mental health reforms outlined in their NHS five year plan for mental health. This will be in addition to the 21,000 new posts already proposed in the Plan for 2017. There is also a plan for the Government to spend an extra £20m on additional places for graduates to train as mental health workers.
But it may not be as easy as that. Filling these places may be difficult if the perception if that a career in mental health roles is dangerous. Research has shown that whilst the public has full appreciation for the work that mental health professionals do, employers may well struggle to persuade jobseekers to follow a career path of this nature. One of the biggest perceived risks is around personal safety, with 90% of people believing that they would be at risk of being attached or injured at work. And whilst 60% of parents would be proud of their children working in mental health, over 30% said that they would worry about their safety. However, in the last Health and Safety Executive violence at work survey, the figures reveal that only 1.4% of health professionals were physically assaulted in 2019.
A significant lack of knowledge about the variety of roles available in the mental health industry is also in play here as although most have heard about pyschiatrists and mental health nurses, few hear about psychological practioners and peer support workers. And most have no idea what training is needed in order to be a mental health professional. However, many of our workforce will currently be reviewing their situations and it may be that a good many are considering a career in mental health. There is after all an increased in demand for personnel rather than a decrease as is the case for many industries and there is also a groundswell of support for the NHS. Because of the outbreak, people believe that the NHS is a good place to work.
To capitalise on this, debunking the myths that surround such a career choice will be a key part of the work that is needed if we are to fill all these places and ensure that mental health services are staffed properly to meet the increased demand. Mental health must surely be placed front and centre in our society rather than just seeing it as a medical treatment service.