Long waiting times for psychological therapies harmful, says mental health report

A group of leading mental health charities has published a report which says that the lives of those stuck on long NHS waiting lists for psychological treatments are being damaged as a result. Mental health problems can worsen, relationships can break down and some people are forced to take time off from work – or give up a job completely – according to “While we are waiting: Experiences of waiting for and receiving psychological therapies on the NHS”.

Clinical guidelines recommend that psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy, should be made available on the NHS. But such therapies remain difficult to access and the wait for patients is often long, the report suggests.

One participant who took part in the report’s research said: “The assessment was incredible…I felt that someone finally understood. When I was told that the wait after assessment was two years it felt like a real let down, offering a life line and [then] snatching it away.”

The report says that psychological therapy can not only improve an individual’s mental health but also a person’s ability to manage family life, relationships, a job or an ongoing physical illness. It recommends that:

• The aim should be that psychological therapy is available when needed urgently, within 3-10 days.

• The NHS communicates to patients about the different kinds of psychological treatments on offer to ensure that they get access to the right therapy for their problem.

• Therapy services need to be flexible, offering weekend and evening appointments for those who work during the day.

• Therapy services should be sensitive and accessible to children and young people, and delivered by experts in children’s mental health.

Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Andrew McCulloch, said: “It takes a huge amount of courage to ask for help for a mental health problem. It is vital that those who need psychological therapy get it as early as possible because the consequences of having to wait can impact terribly on a person’s life. Some people find themselves out of work and unable to maintain relationships with family members and friends – and to get back on track can be really difficult to do.”

Emily Wooster, Policy Officer at Mind, said: “People are still struggling to access a choice of treatments, still waiting months and even years for urgently needed support, and still watching their lives deteriorate while they are stuck on waiting lists. When you are facing an urgent need for any health treatment, waiting weeks or even days can seem like too long.”

To read “While we are waiting”, go to: www.mind.org.uk