Young people are experiencing a “growing sense of hopelessness” and a “fear for the future” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the chief executive of a youth mental health charity has said.
Speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas health committee on Wednesday, Joseph Duffy, chief executive of Jigsaw, said that while the true nature of the Covid-19 pandemic is not being seen due to its "evolving nature", what the charity is hearing is a "real cause for concern".
The charity has seen a 25 per cent increase in referrals for its clinical service in the past two months, and a 400 per cent increase in traffic to its online service and supports in the past six months.
“We’re hearing there’s significant isolation, uncertainty and fear, which are leaving many people without the core elements that support their health and wellbeing. The lack of connection to those around them is leading to high levels of anxiety, low mood and psychological distress,” he said.
“There’s a significant amount of uncertainty and a growing sense of hopelessness, and particularly a fear for the future. There’s concern and worry for parents.”
Mr Duffy added that behind all of the statistics is a young person.
“Regardless of the data, we also know that there is a terrible loneliness for a 14 year old with no one to talk to. We know there’s been much anxiety for those coming through the Leaving Cert year and now facing the prospect of attending college remotely or not at all,” he explained.
“What is clear is that many people, particularly those that are already vulnerable, will emerge from this crisis with poorer mental health.”
Waiting times for clinical service at the charity ranges from four to 10 weeks, depending on the location, Mr Duffy said. He said this long wait time arises because September and October are “peak times” for referrals and that “demand far outstrips capacity”.
Paul Longmore, Jigsaw's clinical director, said this was not a Covid-19 specific problem.
“It has always been a problem whereby our capacity has been far outstripped by demand for our services. Fundamentally those wait times are unacceptable to us as well.”
However, Mr Longmore added that there are online services – such as a live chat and a telephone helpline – that young people can contact and receive immediate assistance.
Access and capacity
Speaking at the same meeting, Martin Rogan, chief executive of Mental Health Ireland, criticised the spending that was made available to mental health services in Ireland.
“Mental health services have been through a period of extraordinary change and reform over the last number of years, but there are significant concerns in relation to service access and capacity,” Mr Rogan said.
He said there has been a "pendular swing" since the 1980s, when the country's mental health service was largely bed-based, to now having " the lowest bed to population ratio in Europe, about half the European rate".
“This has been quite challenging for everybody involved.You can only really contemplate such a model if you have very robust, very strong investment in community-based mental health services and this hasn’t been our experience.”