The More Mentally Unwell You Are, The Longer You Wait For Care, Report Reveals

"Far too many people reach crisis point before getting help."

People with severe mental illnesses are waiting an average of 14 weeks for an assessment on the NHS and a further 19 weeks for treatment, according to a damning report – far longer than those with mild depression and anxiety disorders.

Rethink Mental Illness said one in 10 people with lifelong, severe and complex conditions like schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder are waiting longer than six months to be assessed and another six months to begin treatment.

In comparison, data for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, a service designed for people with mild or moderate depression and anxiety disorders, suggests 89 per cent of people are seen within six weeks from referral, which includes assessment and treatment starting.

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Rethink’s survey of 1,602 people with, or caring for someone with, a mental illness found more than half (56 per cent) didn’t receive treatment in the appropriate time, while 51 per cent said they didn’t access treatment for long enough.

Of those surveyed, 20 people said they had thought about suicide following inadequate treatment. Anne*, a carer who took part in the survey, said she answered on behalf of her husband who tragically died by suicide six weeks ago.

“There was inadequate support and too long a wait for crucial therapy,” she said. “He was originally under the home treatment team after a suicide attempt, then transferred to the mental health team after a few weeks.

“The level of care and support under this service was appalling, despite my husband constantly expressing suicidal thoughts. I truly believe that, if he had received talking therapy sooner, he would still be here.”

Just over one quarter (28 per cent) of those surveyed said they, or the person they were caring for, were not referred to an appropriate service by their GP.

Brian Dow, deputy CEO at Rethink Mental Illness, said: “What we want is right treatment, right time but what we too often have is wrong treatment, too late. Thousands of people find themselves in desperate situations every year, but have to contend with long waits, bureaucracy, and a severe lack of choice about their care.

“The result is that far too many people reach crisis point before getting help.”

The charity said its advice service is overwhelmed by phone calls from people with complex and severe mental illness who are struggling to access NHS services.

Ahead of the NHS long-term plan being published later this month, Rethink wants to see a change in guidelines, including that everyone with psychosis receives NICE-approved treatment within two weeks, and there should be no time limit on care, with people receiving treatment for as long as necessary.

The current NHS target is that 50 per cent of people experiencing a first episode of psychosis will be treated with a NICE-approved care package within two weeks of referral.

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.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email:
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on