Mental health cases increase due to pandemic; psychiatrist calls for more resources, collective action to tackle illness

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Entornointeligente.com / A significant and unprecedented worsening of the Dominica’s mental health population is among the major impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, says Consultant Psychiatrist at the Acute Psychiatric Unit (APU), Dr Nadia Wallace.

As the pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern and according to some media reports and commentators in the mental health community, we are now facing “the greatest threat to mental health since the second world war” and a potential “tsunami” of psychological problems.

In an interview with Dominica News Online (DNO), Dr Wallace said, as a result of the social consequences and the economic fallout due to Covd-19, the profound effect of mental health conditions is being recorded, not only in people with pre-existing conditions, but in new victims to the illness.

She said this year’s Mental Health Day which was observed on the October 10, 2021, under the theme “Mental Health in an Unequal World: Together We Can Make a Difference,” is of significant importance as this highlights the social injustice and inequalities that individuals with mental health conditions have to endure especially now.

“Right now with the pandemic, we have the social determinants of mental health and they have been exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 and because of that, we are seeing more and more people affected mentally,” she stated.

The psychiatrist continued, “There has been an increase in the number of individuals presenting mental health problems since the start of the pandemic. We are seeing an increase in the relapse rate of persons who were previously diagnosed and even people who did not suffer with mental health conditions, because of the depression that they now face from the pandemic, they themselves are now suffering with their mental health.”

She revealed that anxiety and depression are among the most frequent cases of mental health issues recorded lately and noted that since the pandemic has presented itself as a crisis of four realms– social, health, education and economic — every age group and gender is at risk of developing mental health disorder.

“As it relates to the health crisis, so many people are fearful of dying, especially people with comorbid conditions who worry that they will get sick but also with the amount of people who have died already, we have the grief associated with this,” the Consultant Physiatrist stated.

Due to the overwhelming nature of the pandemic, Dr Wallace noted that the mental health of healthcare workers are at risk because “they themselves are overworked and this too can contribute to them having or developing health problems.”

As it relates to the social crisis, she said elderly people are more susceptible due to the separation brought about by social distancing which has become the new norm.

“This is new because we’re social beings and we are used to socializing and interacting and there are so many social activities that we know and methods of distressing or relaxing but all these happenings were taken away from us because of the pandemic,” Dr. Wallace remarked…so because of the separation this affects us especially the elderlies whose main form of socialization for example was going to church, now people have to resort to other mediums to get that very same thing that they did when they socialized.”

She said the pandemic restrictions have caused the most severe disruption to global education in history, and according to experts, this is negatively impacting some students mentally as students are at a pivotal age where socialization, interaction, and bonding is important and with the new measures of online schooling, this is impacted.

“They no longer have the physical and emotional support that they get from their teachers and their peers. Some of them are abused at home and they endure a lot of violence and they no longer have that escape that they would have when they go to school,” the psychiatrist explained.

She said other students are affected because of their economic position, and their parents/guardians’ inability to provide the commodities for online learning.

“When it comes to the economic crisis, we have been seeing loss of jobs which have severely affected the livelihood of some people and they are unable to make ends meet or their basic needs and this is creating a serious problem for them mentally,” Dr. Wallace told DNO.

Describing mental illness as “unfavoured and not prioritized” as globally only 2% of the national health budget goes towards mental health, the Consultant Psychiatrist said this has contributed to a very wide treatment gap in that about 75% to 95% of individuals who suffer with the illness are unable to get mental healthcare.

Dr. Wallace appealed to the government to increase their investment to address mental health issues, particularly in the face of this pandemic.

“We have the structure and there has been some improvement on that but I also believe that more could be done. Mental health has come a long way in Dominica with the help of people like Dr. Benjamin who has done a lot but much, much more is needed,” she insisted.

She recommended that mental health should be placed in the schools curriculum so from an early age there will be greater awareness with the children and teachers which will curb the ignorance of the illness in the long run.

Dr. Wallace further appealed for more technical people in the field such as clinical psychologists and suggested that these individuals can be placed at the schools to monitor students so that early interventions can occur.

“Our mental health is our responsibility,” she reminded the public. “We all need to come together and work collectively as a unit so that we can take care of our mental health…family members need to play a bigger role in ensuring that family members with mental health conditions are taken care of. Its not about the government, or the health care professionals, it’s about all of us.”

For those with mental health conditions, the psychiatrist’s message is to not suffer in silence but to seek the help needed.

LINK ORIGINAL: Dominica News Online

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