Mental health phonelines run by the NHS have answered around three million calls during the pandemic.
The dedicated 24/7 NHS mental health crisis helplines were fast-tracked to open a year ago so everyone could get rapid care they need without having to go to A&E.
Most of the callers are able to receive treatment over the phone or can be referred to a face to face assessment and fewer than 2% of the calls have resulted in an A&E attendance or a blue light response from ambulance or police.
The crisis lines have been rolled out four years earlier than planned, with nationwide coverage reached in May 2020, having originally been scheduled to go live by 2023/24 under the NHS Long Term Plan, but were fast-tracked to ensure support could be provided during the pandemic.
Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call their local helpline and friends and family members can call on behalf of someone they’re worried about. Parents can call for their children, and support is available for all ages. The lines are also open to professionals such as police and paramedics who may come across people experiencing mental ill health.
Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health said: “These crisis lines have been fast-tracked because we knew how important they would be in our toolkit to support people in crisis during the pandemic.
“The NHS has worked hard to care for 400,000 COVID patients requiring hospital treatment and keep essential services going through successive waves alongside delivering the world-beating NHS vaccination programme.
“All our mental health services for both adults and children are still available, with many offering more flexible options such as video and phone consultations to improve safety for patients and staff alike. If you need support with your mental health, you can still access existing services or speak to your GP about your needs.
“I continue to be humbled by the work and commitment of colleagues in mental health services all over the country. They made huge changes in normally impossible timeframes, in the most collective and supportive spirit.”
The helplines have been set up by the 54 mental health trusts across England and some have now been running for over a year, with three million calls between May 2020 and May this year.
Tim Kendall, national clinical director for mental health said: “It is so important that when people are in crisis they can phone and talk to a mental health professional pretty much immediately.
“I am sure this will help alleviate distress, support people in crisis and save lives. This is such an important step for all of us.”
Details of which local helpline to call can be found on an easy to use service finder on the NHS website – simply by typing in a postcode or hometown in the same way you would search for a local GP or pharmacist. For information on how to get urgent mental health assistance visit nhs.uk/urgentmentalhealth
Minister for Mental Health, Nadine Dorries said: “Our NHS and mental health and care staff have worked tirelessly to ensure mental health crisis lines were stood up ahead of schedule to support people over what has been an incredibly challenging year and I am thankful for all their work.
“Throughout the pandemic these local helplines have acted as a beacon of hope for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, ensuring help is always available to people when they need it most.
“Our mental health services have remained open for business, and our Mental Health Recovery Action Plan backed by £500 million will ensure we are able to continue to support the public as we look to the future. I would urge anyone who is struggling to reach out, help is there for you.”
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive at Mind, said: “We know that many more people have experienced mental health crisis since the start of the pandemic, including some with no previous experience of mental health problems. This incredibly testing time has particularly impacted the mental health of certain groups including young people, people of colour and those living in deprivation.
“It is good to see the NHS speeding up its plans to ensure that when people reach this point, the right help is available quickly, across the country. We want to continue to see the NHS offering a range of treatment to people with mental health problems, including face to face appointments, as well as support early on, so that fewer people experience the distress of reaching crisis point.”
The NHS ambition for these lines is to ensure that by 2024 they are connected to NHS 111. This will mean there is one easy to remember national 3-digit number that anyone can dial to access specialist mental health support from the health service.
The lines are staffed by mental health professionals who can refer people to local urgent, acute and routine mental health services. This may include phone and video consultations, as well as urgent face-to-face assessments where necessary.
This is another example of how the NHS has stepped up to ensure that everyone who needs urgent care can continue to receive it in the safest way possible.
Until now, many people didn’t know where to turn in a mental health crisis, and most parts of the country didn’t have accessible helplines.
As a result, many people had no choice but to go to A&E or dial 999 if they needed urgent help even if this wasn’t the best option for their circumstances.
This was already an issue before coronavirus, and the NHS was working to address this by rolling out helplines across the country as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
This included a target to set up helplines for adults by March 2021 and for children and young people by 2024. The new helplines are now open to people of all ages.
One caller, who would like to remain anonymous, said: “I turned to the helpline in the middle of the night when I was feeling very low.
“I would like to express my gratitude to the helpline team for helping me reach my birthday. I would have not got this far without your support.”
Now that the whole country is covered, patients can directly access appropriate help without having to go through other emergency pathways.