You’d be forgiven for not having heard of a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner before. The role itself is relatively new, created in 2008 as part of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. The programme aims to provide psychological therapy services and interventions to people with common mental health problems.

Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners (PWPs) are trained to assess and support people to self-manage common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Their work is seen as an early intervention to work with people in the beginning stages of their mental health issues.

Though the role has been around since 2008, the demand for PWPs has risen drastically since the beginning of the pandemic.

We’re going to look into why PWPs are in such high demand in 2021 and how training for the role is being diversified to keep up with increased demand.

How the pandemic affected demand for Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners

We have all experienced massive change, uncertainty, and even loss during the Covid-19 pandemic. The effects of covid will not just impact our physical health, and the UK is now seeing increased demand for mental health support as a result of the last 18 months.

More people are experiencing poor mental health for the first time due to the pandemic, and those with existing mental health problems have been put under greater strain, with many getting increasingly worse.

Adults and young people have experienced mental health issues due to the pandemic, with 60% of adults and 68% of young people surveyed by mental health charity ‘Mind’ reporting that their mental health got worse during the lockdowns.

At the start of the pandemic, there were real concerns that with the loss of face-to-face mental health services, people would not be able to access the care they needed. However, the move to online support and phone follow-up consultations has provided many suffering from anxiety and depression, who would usually be referred to see a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner in person, with the support they needed without the stress of going into a GP surgery or travelling.

For this reason, some services working with PWPs are continuing a hybrid service of in-person and digital/phone consultation work to support people who would otherwise have barriers to accessing face-to-face help.

However, despite some success with online services during the lockdowns, there is still a real need for more mental health services. 1 in 4 people who tried to access services during the UK lockdowns couldn’t get the help they needed.

Now we are coming opening up again and restrictions are fully eased in England; the need for Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners services has not gone down. New NHS figures show that there has been an increase in people in contact with mental health services, higher now than the first lockdown.

With new uncertainties of adapting to life after restrictions, returning to work, and life becoming busier again, many people are experiencing new anxieties not seen during the lockdowns. This, combined with the number of adults showing symptoms of depression having doubled since the start of the pandemic, now more than ever, there is a huge demand for early mental health support such as that provided by PWPs.

Diversifying training of Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners

With such a clear increase in demand for services, training for new PWPs is increasing.

A focus has been put on increasing access to training for practitioners to improve the diversity of PWPs to better reflect the diversity of people needing help and support. It is now widely acknowledged across psychological professions, including for Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners, that there is a real need to increase the diversity of new entrants, starting with recruitment.

There are also groups of people, including those changing careers or previous service-users who have experienced mental health issues themselves, who can find it hard to find a route into PWP roles.

To counteract this problem and increase PWPs from 2021 and beyond, new funding schemes are being set up to trial more access courses to help people apply for level 6 PWP training. There are hopes amongst the profession that this will increase the diversity of PWPs for the future.

The demand for PWPs in 2021 is clearly significant due to the effects of covid-19 on people’s mental health and an already worsening mental health crisis across the UK pre-pandemic. With increasing strain on NHS mental health services, the need for this vital and skilled role isn’t going away anytime soon.