Soaring psychosis cases in the UK a cause for alarm
By Mary Villareal // Oct 20, 2021

Data from the National Health Service (NHS) show that cases of psychosis have soared over the past two years in England. An increasing number of people are experiencing hallucinations and delusional thinking amid the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


According to the NHS data, there has been a 75 percent increase in the number of people referred to mental health services for their first suspected episode of psychosis between April 2019 and April 2021. The increase was still substantial throughout the summer, with the 12,655 referred cases for psychosis in July representing a 53 percent jump from the same month two years ago.

Much of the increase has been seen over the last year following the announcement of the first national lockdown, as per the data analyzed by Rethink Mental Illness charity. There has been over 13,000 referrals made in May 2021, a 70 percent rise from the same month last year.

The charity is urging the government to invest more in early interventions for psychosis to prevent further deterioration in people's mental health, which could take them years to recover.

A study found that anxiety and depression increased dramatically around the world in 2020, with the number of reported cases exceeding estimates by a considerable margin. (Related: COVID-19 lockdowns causing deterioration of children's mental health.)

Psychosis involves hallucinations and delusions

Psychosis involves hallucinations or seeing or hearing things that other people do not. It also develops delusions or beliefs that are not based on reality. Both of these things can be highly distressing.

While it can be a symptom of other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression, psychosis in itself can also be a one-off event that can potentially be triggered by a traumatic experience, extreme stress or drug and alcohol misuse.

There is no single cause of psychosis, but researchers believe environment and genetics can affect who develops such experiences. Those who do experience psychosis should be offered medication or therapy to help manage it better. There are mental health service specialists in the U.K. who can help give an assessment and provide ways of giving access to treatments.

Guidelines for people experiencing a suspected first episode of psychosis state that they should receive an assessment within two weeks. However, the charity fears that if the increase in referrals continues, more people will have to wait longer for a treatment.

Brian Dow, the deputy chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, says that psychosis can be devastating, and access to a treatment is vital to prevent further deterioration.

"These soaring numbers of suspected first episodes of psychosis are a cause for alarm. We are now well beyond the first profound shocks of this crisis, and it’s deeply concerning that the number of referrals remains so high. As first presentations of psychosis typically occur in young adults, this steep rise raises additional concerns about the pressures the younger generation have faced during the pandemic," he says.

The effect of the pandemic on mental health also requires a revolutionary response that includes dedicated additional funding for mental health and social care that will go to frontline services to help meet new demand.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said that it is important that everyone gets the right support when they need it. The department is currently delivering the fastest expansion in mental health services in NHS history and is backed by an additional £2.3 billion ($3.17 billion) a year budget for 2023 and 2024 to benefit hundreds of thousands more people.

The department also invested an additional £500 million ($688.76 million) to help those whose mental health has been severely impacted by the pandemic. Mental health providers have established 24/7 urgent helplines, which have answered more or less three million calls during the pandemic.

Visit for more articles about COVID-19 and its impact on mental health.

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