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MSP's warning after drop in referrals to young people's mental health service over lockdown

By Lorna Thompson

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AN MSP has raised fears of a developing crisis after new figures show referrals to young people's mental health services had declined over lockdown across NHS Grampian.

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston issued the warning after figures showed that since March this year there had been a drop in both referrals and patients seen at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Mr Halcro Johnston said he was particularly concerned about the wellbeing of young people who have been badly affected by the pandemic and may be worried about their future prospects.

However, an NHS Grampian spokesperson highlighted that the board was currently performing well as regards CAMHS compared with others in Scotland, second only to Dumfries and Galloway, and fared significantly better than the Scottish average for waiting times.

Measures taken at a national level to prevent Covid-19 transmission also meant referrals made by schools were lower than usual.

Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP.
Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP.

Mr Halcro Johnston said: "There are worrying signs that more and more people are facing challenges with their mental health.

"Recently published data by the Office of National Statistics shows that twice as many adults in Britain are reporting symptoms of depression compared with this time last year. And we have just seen reports that the number of mental health emergencies reported to the police in Scotland have soared by 20 to 25 per cent during lockdown.

"This then begs the question: does the NHS, as well as schools and other agencies with responsibility for vulnerable people, have the resources to support people who may be struggling?"

He added: "As mental health is so critical to our sense of wellness and wellbeing, and affects not just ourselves but our families and even our fellow-workers, ministers will have to work hard to ensure that the resources are there when people need them."

Dr Lynne Taylor, director of psychology at NHS Grampian and consultant clinical psychologist, said CAMHS referral numbers were picking up again after the four-month schools closure.

Dr Taylor added that 90 per cent of people referred to the service in NHS Grampian are seen within 18 weeks – and currently waiting times were less than a week.

A Covid-specific NHS Grampian Psychological Resilience Hub has also been in operation, running in parallel with CAMHS, and will continue until March next year.

Dr Taylor said: "In Grampian we set up a Psychological Resilience Hub – which was the first of its kind in Scotland. This is a virtual service. People of any age can self-refer to receive up to three appointments for psychological first aid.

"This service has been available right throughout lockdown and is still open."

She added: "It's often assumed by many that lockdown and the coronavirus situation has had a negative impact on people's mental health – but we have also seen many people whose sense of wellbeing has actually improved with the pressures of school and peers removed. This is obviously not the case for all – for those dealing with issues of trauma or poverty, for example – but it's important to note this."

A video featuring Dr Taylor explaining how the Psychological Resilience Hub works is available at https://covid19.nhsgrampian.org/for-the-public/mental-health-support/what-is-the-grampian-psychological-response-hub/ .

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