Staying aware

by Sarah Day

13 May 2021

Covid-19 has put mental health services under the spotlight, dramatically increasing demand for services while also making more people aware of the challenges facing individuals and the pressure on existing services. Mental Health Awareness week provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges ahead and also to self-check our own wellbeing.

Much has been written about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of the population. On top of reduced social contact, children and young people have had their education interrupted, with some experiencing the uncertainty of whether exams would be taken or not. Older people have often faced the greatest levels of isolation along with the threat of illness, and a growing fear of going out. Meanwhile the working population has also been under pressure, with the insecurity of furlough or stress of added workloads.

Many people who may not have sought help in the past now find that they may need some extra support to deal with the dramatic changes that Covid-19 has caused. This increased need will not be a short-term issue with the ongoing impact from threats to livelihoods, and those living with long Covid or the effects of grief. And who knows what the long-term impact will be for children in their adult lives?

The recognition of the need for mental health support, and the openness with which it is being spoken about, is really good to see. Back in March, the government published its Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan, which recognises that addressing population mental health is not just about the NHS. There are well-evidenced links between social, economic and environmental factors when it comes to thinking about outcomes for mental health and wellbeing.

People across government in welfare, housing, employment and education are all playing their part in thinking through how the country recovers from the pandemic and what the population needs to support its mental health. At a local level, system working will be essential to address mental health needs. We need to make sure that we not only work well between NHS sectors, but also link with colleagues across local government to meet the particular challenges in our areas. We must recognise the impact that housing security, certainty of ongoing employment and levels of debt can have on mental health and wellbeing.

Throughout the pandemic, NHS mental health providers have played a key role in both maintaining services and establishing new ones at speed, such as offering 24/7 crisis lines and workforce support across the whole NHS. But the ambitions for improvement and expansion of services set out in the Five year forward view and the NHS long term plan remain in place, together with new requirements to accelerate and further expand some of those aims. Only this week, further expansion of NHS mental health support in schools was announced.

Keeping up with changes, targets and the longer-term ambitions that may have been disrupted by the pandemic can be a challenge. That is why the HFMA has created the Mental health guidance and resources map. This map brings together the key national guidance documents that set out mental health policy together with the more practical implementation guides that support local planning.

However, national guidance can only go so far. The map also signposts case studies and other resources that can assist NHS finance staff in both providers and commissioners to support the transformation and expansion of mental health services. The Mental health guidance and resources map will be updated regularly as new documents are published and more case studies are shared.

It is a busy time for the NHS and for NHS finance staff. Among the demands of audits, planning, getting ready for statutory integrated care systems and keeping up with the day job, it is important that we take time to look after our own mental health and wellbeing. The theme for this Mental Health Awareness week is the importance of connecting with nature, something that was shown to help many people through lockdown and continues to do so. But if you can’t get outside, don’t forget that there are resources on the HFMA website such as a webinar from Mind on Looking after your wellbeing and resilience or free bitesize courses in many personal development areas.