There is a “looming” mental health crisis which has been fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic, experts have warned.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said waiting times for mental health services could “get a lot worse”.
It comes after a small poll conducted on behalf of the college found that some patients were forced to turn to emergency care after facing long waits for care.
The college said its poll of 513 British adults with a mental illness found that many patients face lengthy waits between their initial assessment and next appointment – with some patients ending up in A&E.
Almost two fifths (38%) reported that they or someone on their behalf had contacted emergency or crisis services while waiting for their second appointment, while 39% said waiting led to a decline in their mental health, the college said.
Meanwhile, the figures revealed that one in 10 of those polled (11%) waited longer than six months between their initial assessment and second appointment.
Almost a quarter (23%) waited more than three months and 64% waited more than a month.
Dr Kate Lovett, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It simply isn’t good enough that so many people are waiting for mental health treatment and ending up in crisis.
“Even before the pandemic hit, mental health services were not keeping up with demand. But the looming mental health crisis fuelled by the pandemic and the economic recession means waiting times could get a lot worse.
“As well as needing medical students and doctors to choose psychiatry, we need decisive Government action on workforce, infrastructure and funding.”
It comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that mental health services around the world have been disrupted due to the pandemic.
The WHO estimates that nine in 10 (93%) countries have seen services disrupted or halted at a time when mental health needs are increasing.
Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones, the global health body warned.
Many people are facing increased levels of alcohol or drug use, anxiety and insomnia, it added.
Covid-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, the WHO said, including delirium, agitation and stroke.
As the pandemic continues, there will be greater demand on mental health services, it added, as it called for more money to be ploughed into mental health services – which have previously faced chronic underfunding.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We recognise the impact this pandemic can have on people’s mental health and NHS mental health services have adapted to continue to provide support to those who need it throughout the pandemic.
“We are providing £9.2m in additional funding to national and local mental health charities to support adults and children affected by the pandemic, and we are committed to increasing the mental health workforce.
“Mental health services will expand further and faster thanks to a minimum £2.3bn of extra investment a year by 2023/24 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.”