A “major” campaign will be launched by the NHS to encourage people struggling with their mental health to come forward for help, MPs have heard.
Health minister Nadine Dorries told the Commons that a national surveillance system is also being piloted by Public Health England to monitor suspected suicide and self-harm incidents.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate on Covid-19, Ms Dorries also highlighted the mental health challenges faced by young people suffering from long Covid.
Her comments come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that England would enter a second national lockdown, with new measures in place until December 2.
“It’s OK not to feel OK during this difficult time and we will support everyone in getting the help that they need,” said Ms Dorries.
“And I am pleased to announce that the NHS will launch a major campaign to encourage people who may be struggling with common mental health illness to come forward for help.
“Talking therapy services will continue to be made available remotely so people can access help safely from home.
“While we know anecdotally that some people’s experience of digital mental health services have been very positive, we also know it doesn’t work for everyone, particularly people with more serious mental health illnesses.
“And the NHS will work to ensure that the option of face-to-face support is provided to people with serious mental health illness across all ages where it is clinically safe to do so.
“And people with serious mental health illness will continue to receive help from NHS volunteer responders to access essentials such as food and medication throughout the winter.
“Overall, our response to the mental health impacts of the pandemic must be driven by the best possible evidence to help us access the data on the number of suicides.
“Public Health England is currently piloting a national surveillance system to monitor suspected suicide and self-harm by collecting in near real-time data from local systems. This will allow us to identify patterns of risk and inform national and local responses.
“I’d also like to announce that we are developing a winter plan for well-being and mental health and I hope to return to the House with more information on this shortly.”
Ms Dorries also warned that there are young people who have contracted Covid who have suffered from mental health illnesses as a result.
She said: “There are two mental health stories to this pandemic. Yes, we know that there are people who will suffer with exacerbated mental health problems as a result of this pandemic.
“In fact, we know that people with pre-existing mental health conditions and frontline workers are particularly susceptible. But there is another side to this story. That is long Covid.
“Young people who contract Covid who suffer with mental health illnesses as a result of this, and we need to wake up, actually – in the words of Dr Adrian James, who is the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists – we need to wake up to the very serious mental health consequences experienced by people who get Covid.
“And for the children and the families of those who are left disabled or alone or the families of those who are killed by this disease.”
Shadow health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said the Government should have addressed calls for a national well-being guarantee “weeks ago”.
She told MPs: “We are only in November and are facing a cruel, long winter. The public want to support the Government’s measures and see the back of this virus.
“But people also want reassurance that the mental health of our nation is not going to be put at risk. The years of underfunding in mental health leaves us without much faith.
“We called for a national well-being guarantee last month, the Government should have addressed this weeks ago. But now it is crucial, and I plead with the minister to meet properly with the sector and get a plan in place urgently.”
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