It has been reported that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a sharp rise in:
- People suffering from a new onset of mental illness;
- People suffering from an exacerbation of a pre-existing mental illness; and
- Deaths of mental health patients whilst detained in a hospital setting.
Are we now facing a mental health pandemic?
Many of us will be able to relate to the fact that the pandemic has negatively impacted people’s general well-being and mental health, whether in the short or long term.
In fact, it has been reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that around one in five adults in Great Britain have experienced some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic and this rate has doubled since before the pandemic.
Sadly, statistics also suggest that people have been less likely to seek medical help in the community. Many have been reluctant to consult GPs about their mental health, especially during the height of the pandemic, and as the majority of routine GP appointments have taken place by telephone rather than face-to-face, people do not feel comfortable reaching out for help and support in this way.
Prior to Covid-19, designated mental health services were already struggling with capacity and unable to provide all patients with the level of care they needed due to a lack of resources and funding. Since the onset of Covid-19, the situation only seems to have worsened due to many reasons, including an increase in social isolation, anxiety about the spread of the virus and as a result of financial hardship and unemployment.
Investigation into hospital deaths
Where an individual becomes acutely unwell due to mental illness, treatment in a hospital environment often becomes necessary and a patient can be detained against his or her will under the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) if they require urgent treatment and are at risk of harm to themselves or others.
Treatment in a hospital environment should provide a safe space where patients can be assessed, diagnosed and treated with a combination of medication and talking therapies.
However, the BBC’s Political Unit is currently conducting an investigation into the possible reasons behind a 100% increase in deaths of people detained under the MHA since March 2020; an extremely worrying and shocking statistic.
It is predicted that the outcome of the investigation will determine the key factors which have contributed to such a huge increase in deaths and as a result, identify areas of inpatient care and management which require improvement as a preventative measure.
Understandably, those who have suffered the untimely loss of a loved one whilst receiving inpatient psychiatric treatment during the pandemic will have many unanswered questions, especially as many family members were unable to visit patients during lockdown periods. It is hoped that the investigation will help to address some of these highly important questions. The investigative process will also give families who wish to speak out the opportunity to do so.
Initial investigations suggest that a significant contributing factor is the lower staffing levels on psychiatric wards during the pandemic. However, we envisage that a number of other factors will likely have played a part and once concluded, the findings will be crucial in highlighting patterns behind the extremely concerning increase in deaths during this period.
How we can help
If you have lost somebody close to you as a result of mental ill-health during the pandemic, or they have suffered serious harm, please contact our team who can provide you with support and advice in relation to Coroner’s inquests and clinical negligence claims.