Covid-19 has exacerbated a mental health crisis

Health providers face problems in bringing much-needed services to those in need

 

In a crisis we are forced to rethink every aspect of our lives, regroup and reorder in a way to make life more doable.

And yet, in a crisis, enforced measures, restricted livelihoods, fears and worries encapsulate yet more issues our society must face. Covid-19 has exacerbated a mental health crisis.

In a recent paper, published in Lancet Psychiatry, researchers called for a multidisciplinary network to research, understand and lessen the psychological, social, and neuroscientific effects of the new coronavirus pandemic. The researchers abide by the fact that “there is an urgent need for research to address how mental health consequences for vulnerable groups can be mitigated under pandemic conditions, and on the impact of repeated media consumption and health messaging around Covid-19.”

Before we can find answers to the long-term effects of the loneliness, entrapment and other psychological impacts of such a crisis, mental health service providers are facing problems but also finding solutions in bringing much-needed services to those that need them.

Traditional meetings, such as face-to-face appointments, have ceased due to social distancing and stay-at-home measures. While the idea of online counselling is not new, it has been rigorously forced into the limelight in recent weeks. TherapyHub.ie is an online platform recognised in helping to make counselling services more accessible. They have partnered with A Lust for Life to facilitate free 30-minute Psychological First Aid online video sessions on TherapyHub.ie provided by accredited counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists. Such moves to provide as much support as possible are necessary in today’s stressed and anxious society.

Modifying the support

Targeting those who need support and modifying the support available, has been a challenge which mental health service providers have been quick to tackle. Karolyn Ward, Head of Advocacy and Communications at Shine, who support individuals and families affected by mental ill-health, says, “We had to quickly learn how to use new tools and find innovative and creative ways of working. With the announcement of an extended lockdown period, we were prepared for things to change for a lot of people. There is no doubt that the current pandemic will have a potentially significant impact on the mental health of our nation, but more fundamentally on those who are currently living with an enduring mental illness. Self-isolation, lack of social contact, the exposure to negative and frightening news, and the decimation of normal routine all play a significant role in impacting a person’s emotional wellbeing.”

John Saunders, CEO of Shine, acknowledges that “there are very real fears and concerns for family members and relatives of those who are living with mental health challenges. They are worried about loved ones who may be living alone or in self-isolation, worried for their safety, wellbeing, access to mental health service supports, and worries about how their loved one’s condition will be overseen without those regular supports. This is having a knock-on effect in terms of the family member’s own mental health and we have begun to see an increase in family members reaching out for support themselves.”

Realistic routine

Shine have shifted their focus in supporting people to use their existing skills and strengths, to establish a safe, achievable and realistic routine to maintain their mental health. Offering a range of free mental health services, Shine also provide free phone counselling and offer confidential email counselling.

Likewise, as the Covid-19 situation evolved and changed, so too did the response of Jigsaw, the national centre for youth mental health. “On March 12th, based on public health advice, we announced the temporary suspension of our face-to-face service,” says Jigsaw CEO, Dr Joseph Duffy. “Since then, our teams have worked tirelessly across the country to reimagine our organisation and rethink how we could continue to deliver services to those who need our help. For the past month, we have been supporting young people, parents and their educators with a suite of mental health information, advice and support on our website (jigsawonline.ie) as well as providing a free telephone service. And we’ve had huge demand. We’ve seen a 420 per cent increase in numbers accessing information and support via jigsawonline.ie. We’ve also had over 2,500 signups for our online teacher courses.”

A significant new initiative developed as part of Jigsaw’s Covid-19 response is the support line 1800 JIGSAW (544 729). It provides free mental health support and advice to young people aged 12- to 25-years-old, and parents or concerned adults. Additional key service updates for the organisation through their website jigswonline.ie include a twice-daily group chat for young people focused on diverse emerging themes; live webinars for parents and teachers; regular supportive content on a range of Covid-19-related topics from managing anxiety and uncertainty to conflict resolution and self-care strategies. In addition, email support is available through help@jigsaw.ie for young people and those around them.

Vulnerable position

“Families are in a more vulnerable position than previously exhibited in the modern lifestyle,” says Irene Lowry, CEO of Nurture Health, a counselling support and wellness organisation offering assistance surrounding conception, pregnancy, childbirth and other related difficulties. Helping women and partners via phone, video or face-to-face counselling since the pandemic started, Nurture Health have recognised a 40 per cent decline in calls seeking support.

“We have concluded that women might feel ashamed and embarrassed if they did not have the funds to pay for their counselling sessions,” says Lowry. “We are advising GPs, consultants, public health nurses, and other organisations that we are offering a 30-minute phone-counselling support service to women in the maternity hospitals as an additional resource. This is available to women who have miscarried or lost a baby, and is also available to women who have had home births.

“Our private women’s support forum is also a valuable resource for women who feel they would like support at this time. This forum offers professional support from our Nurture Health counsellors whilst providing a space for women to talk with like-minded women. Women’s overall wellbeing will have suffered in their isolation and the ramifications of this can be de-escalated by the intervention of professional counselling supports. Without this intervention, to get back to positive mental health after the pandemic could take a long recovery time.”

Aware (aware.ie). Freephone: 1800 80 48 48.

Samaritans (samaritans.org/ireland). Freephone: 116 123.

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