Mental health services and Covid-19: Policy briefing

2 September 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the lives of people with mental health difficulties and on mental health services. This briefing identifies key themes from a survey of mental health service staff in the UK and a review of studies across the world.

The studies were conducted by the NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit (MHPRU) at University College London and King’s College London. Its aim is to help the Department of Health and Social Care and others involved in making nationwide plans for mental health services to make decisions based on good evidence. Centre for Mental Health and The Mental Elf work alongside the Unit to ensure its work is accessible and relevant to policymakers, practitioners and the public.

The Policy Research Unit has carried out two major studies into the impact of Covid-19 on mental health services and the people they support, both internationally and in the UK. These crucial studies aim to gather early evidence of the impacts not just of the virus but of the changes that have taken place during the pandemic on the lives of people with long-term mental health needs and the services that support them.

They show that mental health services have faced significant challenges and changes over the last six months. Challenges included significant reductions in people’s social networks and informal support systems, as well as difficulties keeping both staff and service users safe from the virus. Changes have included a swift switch to using digital technology and redesigning crisis services. These have shown the ability of mental health services to adapt to new circumstances. But they may have long-term repercussions, especially on staff who may be at greater risk of stress and burnout.

The briefing makes recommendations based on the studies’ findings. These include investment in peer support and digital services as well as learning from the experience of the lockdown to inform future emergency situations.

The views and opinions expressed by authors in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health & Social Care.

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