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Survey of psychiatrists shows major rise in mental health referrals during Covid-19

By Paul Mulholland - 29th Jun 2021

The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has warned that Covid-19 is having a significant, negative impact on mental health across the community. 
The College has published findings of a survey of 180 psychiatrists (members of the College) examining the impact of Covid-19 on mental health in the seven-month period from June 2020 to the end of December last. 
The survey focused on comparing the experience of psychiatrists during the second half of the year (after the ending of the first lockdown but before the introduction of the third lockdown in January of this year).
The survey shows that along with surging referral and relapse numbers, psychiatrists are also reporting increasingly unrealistic workloads.

Comparing the second half of 2020 with the first half of the year (to end May 2020), 36 per cent of respondents reported a significant increase in referrals provided and 30 per cent reported a “significant increase” in the volume of emergency interventions.
Regarding the number of patients experiencing a relapse of mental health illness, 28 per cent of respondents reported a “significant increase”.

The survey also found that amongst psychiatrists:

23 per cent of respondents said that in their view the “lethality” of methods of self-harm had increased over the year;

36 per cent of respondents found that the complexity of self-harm presentations had increased;

50 per cent of respondents said they felt they were unequipped with IT to do their job remotely;

65 per cent said they themselves suffered decreased wellbeing as a result of Covid-19;

79 per cent expect their workload to increase in the coming months.

Regarding the survey results, Dr William Flannery, President of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and a Consultant Psychiatrist, said: “This survey covers the seven months up to the end of December 2020. It does not include the impact of the most recent lockdown which began in January so we can assume the figures it reveals have worsened in recent months. Even then, the figures we have for this survey starkly highlight the very serious impact which Covid-19 had on the mental health of the community through 2020. The pandemic has added enormous strain on an already fragile mental health service and there is little appreciation at a policy level for how serious the situation now is on the ground.”

He continued: “Psychiatrists are working hard to address the growing needs of the community, but unfortunately Covid-19 has exacerbated a problem that has been bubbling under the surface for some time. We need to see increased funding and resources before it is too late for thousands of people under serious and, in many cases, life-threatening strain.”

Dr Flannery said that psychiatrists themselves were under increasing pressure since the onset of Covid-19. “This is an unsustainable situation at present. The Government can no longer afford to merely pay lip service to an issue which is affecting every family in the country. The stakes are too high and the cost to people’s lives is too great.”

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