Accessing support for mental health, alcohol and other drug problems during COVID

Mental health needs often seem to take the backseat when it comes to funding and prioritisation, especially when the world is faced with a pandemic that kills people. But as time passes, not only is there growing recognition of the lasting neuropsychiatric effects of COVID, with 1 in 5 reporting such symptoms, but the full impact of broken routines, restrictions in social contacts and uncertainty over the future is starting to take its toll. Those with pre-existing conditions will be at a greater risk, both as result of the factors listed above, but also owing to the likelihood of reduced access to their normal face-to-face services. For those for whom COVID has been a precipitant of problems for the first time, it will have been harder than usual to access familiar sources of support, leaving many to fend for themselves or seeking support from immediate family or friends. For people with problems related to the use of alcohol and drugs we see the same picture. Where mental health and substance use intersect, the picture is more complex; but as our recent COVID study showed, alcohol, regardless of who you are, comes out as a fairly lousy coping mechanism making this particularly worse for those with underlying mental health disorders.

So that’s all pretty grim reading. But it’s not all bad. COVID has catapulted many medical services online and many talking therapies including those delivered by doctors, psychologists and counsellors can be delivered online. For some people this will mean increased access and will remove barriers such as travel. But for others, the loss of personal contact will be significant. And for those delivering treatments online (me included), it takes time to adapt, and to be honest, it can also be more intense and over the course of a day more draining, without the support of colleagues and the natural breaks that occur in the day for most clinicians.

So, as part of GDS2021 we want to know what your experience has been of accessing support for mental health and problems related to alcohol and drugs during COVID. Was is it good, bad, helpful or something else. What’s your preference moving forward? Face-to-face, online or both? Please help us to guide the future delivery of support next year by taking 20-30 minutes and adding your voice to GDS2021. Anonymous, confidential and likely to be very helpful to others.

Prof Adam R Winstock
Founder GDS, Consultant Psychiatrist and Addiction Medicine Specialist