More than a year into the COVID-19 crisis, the fight against infection is in full force. But while the vaccination process is underway, mental health advocates like those at the Richmond Foundation have warned of the longer-term, mental effects of lockdown and catching the virus.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, the Richmond Fountain, a prominent non-profit for mental health, said that mental health issues are on a clear rise in Malta and beyond.
“A recent study has found that one in three people who had COVID-19 were diagnosed with mental health disorders. Unfortunately, we’re not surprised,” Daniela Calleja Bitar, Richmond’s Chief Operations Officer, explained.
This is because viruses in general, including influenza A (H1N1), herpes and HIV have been found to trigger long-term mental health problems.
“It’s clear that COVID-19 is behaving similarly. This and other factors added to the pandemic stress that we all have felt has brought about this situation.”
Indeed, it isn’t just COVID-19 and other virus patients that are being diagnosed with mental issues. The effect of COVID-19 restrictions and the constant threat of catching the virus has taken its toll on many.
Ever since coronavirus hit the islands, the Richmond Foundation has been monitoring the sentiments of the population through regular surveys. It has conducted eight since the outbreak hit.
Their research found that while fear and anxiety has diminished since March 2020, people are experiencing a great sense of “pandemic fatigue.”
“Last March, when we conducted the first of our surveys, anxiety and uncertainty were the most prominent feelings in Maltese people. This year that’s been replaced by depression, low moods and tiredness,” Calleja Bitar added.
Over the course of a year, fewer people see COVID-19 “as a big deal”. The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines was partially attributed to this. However, more people reported being unusually tired, restless, unable to sleep and some even said they experienced increase thoughts of self-harm.
It is clear that mental conditions prompted by the pandemic will outlive the physical threat of the virus, and one in four people suffer from a mental disorder in their lifetimes. In light of this, psychiatrists are calling for a holistic exit plan for COVID-19, in which mental health reforms are at the forefront.
In 2020, a 10-year Mental Health Strategy was unveiled. It involves €6 million allocated to upgrade mental health services on the island. However, mental health doctors said is far from enough to tackle the issue.
Meanwhile, Malta’s mental health hospital has repeatedly come under fire for “undesirable” practices by the national mental commissioner and mental health NGOs.
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