Fall of 50% in demand for mental health services during lockdown
THE number of people accessing mental health services fell to around half their normal levels during lockdown.
Figures were released in response to questions by Deputy Jennifer Merrett, who said she was concerned about how much consideration has been given to the wider effect emergency powers have had on the community’s health and wellbeing.
Health & Social Care said that 352 people accessed Healthy Minds (formerly the Primary Care Mental Health and Wellbeing Service) between January and the end of May, compared to 618 in 2019.
‘Individuals may be referred to the service through primary care or can self-refer through the online portal. While there was a reduction in referrals during lockdown, these have now returned to near normal rates,’ the committee said.
There are currently 58 people on the waiting list for primary mental health services.
The service normally receives about 1,500 requests every year.
‘While face-to-face working has resumed in Phase 5, treatment and assessment were available throughout lockdown via the telephone and online via Microsoft Teams,’ said HSC.
‘Some individuals declined support in this manner and opted to wait for face-to-face appointments.’
There was a corresponding reduction in people being referred to secondary mental health services during lockdown, again this is returning to normal levels. There is no waiting list in this sector.
‘Arrangements have been in place throughout lockdown to support specific groups – frontline workers from HSC, Education and the private sector – who may have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
‘At this stage, there is no evidence to suggest that any wider changes are needed for the population as a whole as a direct result of lockdown, as it is considered that any need within the community can be managed via existing treatment pathways.’
HSC wants more investment in mental health generally. The 2020 Budget had allocated funding for the development of a health and wellbeing centre, but work halted as a result of Covid-19.
‘The committee intends to specifically raise this work-stream with the Policy & Resources Committee, including whether it remains possible to access the funding.’
HSC also confirmed there had not been an increase in the number of child protection cases during lockdown.
‘Given that children have only recently returned to school, it remains too soon to predict whether this return will see an increase in disclosure of incidents which may have occurred during lockdown but which did not come to the attention of professionals during this time due to the circumstances.’