The Malta Independent 25 September 2020, Friday

‘Hear our desperate plea for more investment in mental health care’ - Mental Health Association

Tuesday, 25 August 2020, 18:20 Last update: about 30 days ago

It seems that mental health was not factored in at all during the national contingency plan to cater for the effects of Covid-19, and is now having a detrimental effect on mental health service-users, their care givers and health professionals, the Mental Health Association (MHA) said on Tuesday.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a totally unprecedented situation and is having a devastating effect on people's mental health, from children and adolescents to adults and the elderly alike."

Thousands of individuals, locally and across the world have seen drastic effects to their mental health due to COVID-19. 

The MHA statement highlights that whilst thousands of mental health cases have increased, 'ironically bed availability has drastically decreased, leaving wards in Mount Carmel Hospital to be over-crowded, which also goes against current social distancing health recommendations."

The Association stated that the closure of the psychiatric ward at MDH means that now the only impatient care is at Mount Carmel Hospital, where currently there is a shortage of staff. "Locally, COVID-19 patients are being sent to private hospitals, however mental health remains neglected without even an emergency psychiatric care service available 24/7, hence we continue to lose lives to suicide and other tragic situations, as a result of this unforgiving void."

"Furthermore, the Psychiatric out-Patients and the Psychiatric unit have been both removed from Mater Dei Hospital, in spite of the various promises and talks by government policy-makers on the importance of integrating mental health care within mainstream healthcare." The Association highlight that World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN urge greater investment in Mental Health.

The statement quoted Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director of WHO, as saying: "the impact of the pandemic on people's mental health is already extremely concerning. Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment."

Due to the pandemic, the Mental Health Sector has lost the little progress it had started to make in the past couple of years. "The Mental Health Association welcomes increased community care, bearing in mind this needs to be developed with adequate resources in the form of professional staff, adequate premises for a multidisciplinary approach, where a quality service is offered and a transition period where patients' continuity of care is ensured. At present service-users are left in limbo not knowing when there next appointment is scheduled."

MHA deplore the decision to remove the Psychiatric out-Patients and the Psychiatric Unit from MDH. "We believe that this decision runs counter to the government policy makers' pledge to integrate mental health care into general healthcare and the bold decisions needed to translate the five pillars for effective mental health and well-being identified by the Commissioner for Mental Health in his 2018 report into action."

The Association believes that the present situation is untenable since family carers and their loved ones are being burdened with facing the risks associated with a disruption of face-to-face physiatric care, the negative consequences of which could include relapse and suicidal behaviour.

"We ask the Minister for Health to take heed, to hear our desperate cry for help and progress from words stated in the National Mental Health Strategy to their implementation, now eve more than ever."


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