Mental health referrals in Scotland dropped by 59% at beginning of Covid pandemic - but a surge is expected

The picture is mixed at local levels across the country

Campaigners are “bracing themselves” for a mental health surge, with figures showing 59% fewer referrals made to services in Scotland in the early months of the Covid pandemic.

The latest national figures for March 2021 show referral rates have now recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

However, the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH) said it expects referral figures to continue rising as more people come into the system.

National referral figures returned to pre-pandemic levels by March this year, but the picture is mixed at local levels across the country.

The country overall has seen just a 2.08% increase in referrals between February 2020 and March 2021.

However, the NHS Islands and NHS Borders have seen mental health referrals more than double compared to pre-pandemic levels, with a 110% and 154% increase in referrals respectively.

At the other end of the scale, NHS Grampian has seen referrals fall by more than 50% compared to February last year, and in Ayrshire and Arran there was a 56% decrease in referrals over the same period of time.

In the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area, referrals increased by 3% between February 2020 and March 2021.

Why are there differences in referrals across the country?

SAMH’s chief executive Billy Watson said the reason for differences was hard to pinpoint, but suggested more rural areas had opened up quicker in Scotland, meaning people were able to access services easier.

He said: “In the system the danger is that people will become more mentally unwell as they wait.

“All the evidence would suggest that they will wait longer, and they were already waiting probably too long in the first instance. So that has the potential to manifest itself as an increase in crisis.”

Mr Watson added that there’s a potential for the number of referrals “to rise to higher levels and the Scottish Government are working on a renewal plan, where they are looking to make available resources and deployment of services differently to try and meet that expected upturn in demand”.

“I think we’re in the very early stages of that, “ he added.