Cases of psychosis have soared over the past two years in England as an increasing number of people experience hallucinations and delusional thinking amid the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There was a 75% increase in the number of people referred to mental health services for their first suspected episode of psychosis between April 2019 and April 2021, NHS data shows.
The rise continued throughout the summer, with 12,655 referred in July 2021, up 53% from 8,252 in July 2019. Much of the increase has been seen over the last year, after the first national lockdown, according to data analysed by the charity Rethink Mental Illness. More than 13,000 referrals were made in May 2021, a 70% rise on the May before when there were 7,813 referrals.
The charity is urging the government to invest more in early intervention for psychosis to prevent further deterioration in people’s mental health from which it could take them years to recover.
It says the statistics provide some of the first concrete evidence to indicate the significant levels of distress experienced across the population during the pandemic.
A study earlier this month found that anxiety and depression around the world increased dramatically in 2020, with an estimated 76m extra cases of anxiety and 53m extra cases of major depressive disorder than would have been expected had Covid not struck. Women and young people were disproportionately affected, the researchers said.
Psychosis can involve seeing or hearing things that other people do not (hallucinations) and developing beliefs that are not based on reality (delusions), which can be highly distressing. It can be a symptom of mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression, but psychosis can also be a one-off, potentially triggered by a traumatic experience, extreme stress or drug and alcohol misuse.