A record number of people made a recovery from mental ill health after receiving NHS talking therapy last year, with almost half of people completing a course of treatment for depression or anxiety recovering, a new report has revealed.
The annual report on Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services (IAPT) defined recovery as when a person begins therapy as a “clinical case”, meaning their symptoms of mental ill health are severe, but symptoms are no longer classed as clinical by the end of their course of treatment. Symptoms are defined as “clinical” or “non clinical” measured by scores from questionnaires tailored to the patient’s specific condition.
The review, published by NHS Digital, revealed 1.4 million people were referred for IAPT services during 2016 and 2017. Just under half (49.3%) of people made a recovery, which is a 7% increase compared to the period of 2012-2013, when records for this service began.
While the Mental Health Foundation welcomed the news, the charity told HuffPost UK the figures can’t be used to show patients are making a “permanent recovery” from anxiety or depression as they perhaps would from a physical illness, as “our mental health is always fluctuating”.
The report on the effectiveness of talking therapies comes a week after a major study found antidepressants are an effective treatment for depression.
Talking therapies available on the NHS under the IAPT programme include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), individual counselling for depression, couples counselling for depression and mindfulness therapy.
The report found more patients are getting care for mental ill health within six weeks compared to the year before. Of the 567,000 referrals that finished a course of treatment in 2016-2017, 87.5% waited less than six weeks for their first treatment and 98.2% waited less than 18 weeks. This compares to figures from 2015-16, which were reported at 81.3% and 96.2%, respectively.
Despite the overall increase in recovery rates being good news, the figures revealed a pronounced difference in experiences of patients from different ethnic groups. Recovery rates for patients from the white ethnic group stood at 50.2%, for black or black British it was 44.9%, for those of mixed multiple ethnic groups 44.5%, for Asian or Asian British it was 44.2% and for other ethnic groups 41.7%.
The NHS director of mental health, Claire Murdoch, welcomed the report, stating the health service is “reversing years of under-investment” to tackle mental illness. “Putting mental health on a level footing with physical care remains a priority for NHS England, and from April this year every part of the country will be required to increase the share of their budgets going towards mental health care,” she said.
“No one would claim that the transformation we all want to see will happen overnight, but with a rising number of people getting successful treatment for common conditions like depression and anxiety, it’s clear that we are making important progress.”
Commenting on the report, Mark Rowland, a director at the Mental Health Foundation, said while the charity “welcomes the strong new evidence about the effectiveness of talking therapies”, we should be aware that “recovery” from mental illness is not always the same as recovery from physical illness. The results of talking therapy may not be permanent in the way treatment for a broken leg might be.
“Our mental health is always fluctuating as we pass through life’s difficulties and pressure points. What these results show is that talking therapies can be very effective in helping people recover from periods of mental ill health. This isn’t necessarily permanent recovery, but the skills learnt in talking therapies are lifelong and can equip us to better manage our mental health successfully,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Sustaining good mental health is a challenge we are all faced with. There’s no one size fits all solution, it’s about finding the best combination of approaches that prevent us getting unwell and help us recover when we do.”
You can read more about the use of the term “recovery” relating to mental ill health on the Mental Health Foundation website.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org