The cost-of-living crisis “poses a threat of pandemic proportions” to the nation’s mental health, the head of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said.
Dr Adrian James said pressure on the NHS could reach unprecedented levels as people try to cope with the rising price of food, fuel and other essentials.
Last month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £15 billion package to help the most vulnerable cope with rising costs but ministers have said they cannot help everyone.
Dr James said there is a £300m “black hole” in mental health funding caused by inflation as he called for a cash injection into services.
Addressing the RCPsych International Congress in Edinburgh, he said “food insecurity, fuel poverty, debt and the loneliness and isolation that come with it, are a hard reality for millions of people”.
He added: “Much like with the pandemic, those already living with a mental illness are more likely to suffer the consequences of the looming economic downturn, which will be felt for years to come.
“We must be ready to offer them the specialist, high-quality care we know can make a difference.”
Dr James called for “a cash boost of £300m to match inflation and deliver the investment package promised in the NHS long-term plan.”
Figures show that mental health referrals hit record levels of 4.3m last year in England and there is a backlog of 1.4m people waiting to start treatment.
Dr James said the extra £300m needed can be partly taken from the recently announced £1.5bn for local systems but further funding will be necessary next year.
“NHS staff are continuing to make personal sacrifices to help their patients, having worked tirelessly for two years”, Dr James said.
But he added that “funding for mental health services needs to be prioritised as we’re being called upon to overcome yet another unprecedented challenge”.