Page last updated at 23:20 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 00:20 UK

Long wait for mental health help

Woman with head in hands
Mental health problems could cost society 8bn, research has suggested

Some people seeking mental health services in Scotland are kept waiting for more than a year, the public spending watchdog has revealed.

Audit Scotland said there was a lack of information on national waiting times.

But "very long waits" in some areas may reflect a wider trend, its Overview of Mental Health Services report concluded.

It found waits of between 58 and 77 weeks for psychological therapies in two areas covered by NHS Highland.

In Tayside, 40% of older people referred to psychology services were waiting longer than 18 weeks.

There have been programmes to reduce the stigma of mental health problems but more needs to be done
Caroline Gardner
Audit Scotland

However, the report said the overall situation in Tayside had improved between two visits in 2008 and this year.

Researchers also found "problems" with waiting times for young people in Tayside, Highland and Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

The report said up to 850,000 people experience mental health problems at any one time in Scotland. It said that although mental health problems can affect anyone, those living in deprived areas were at higher risk.

It also said there had been "significant developments" in mental health provision recently, and found strong support among health professionals for current policies.

Cost to society

But it added: "Basic management information on waiting times, staffing levels, vacancies and caseloads is needed for agencies to plan and manage mental health services more effectively.

"In areas where we carried out fieldwork, we found evidence of children and adolescents waiting a long time to access services.

"This is likely to reflect the picture across Scotland."

The NHS spends about £930m a year on mental health services but this is likely to be an underestimate, the report said.

The auditors said previous research indicated that the overall cost to society - including days lost at work - could total £8bn.

Deputy auditor general for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: "There have been programmes to reduce the stigma of mental health problems but more needs to be done.

"There is also a need to ensure that people can access the services they need as quickly as possible and that they can get help out-of-hours or at times of crisis."

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