In the recent Oireachtas Special Committee meeting, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health was discussed. The meeting was attended by the Committee of TDs, Jigsaw, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health, CEO Dr Joseph Duffy and Mental Health Ireland, CEO Martin Rogan.

Deputy Mark Ward (SF) stated that, based on a recent report, 74% of committee members have not done enough to address the mental health issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. 92% agreed mental health services required additional mental health resources to deal with the impact of Covid-19 on mental health. These statistics illustrate the strain that will face mental health services in Ireland following the pandemic. The WHO has recommended that a minimum 12% of the Health Budget should be allocated to mental health, currently receiving 7% of the Irish Health Budget.

It was also stated that while Mental Health services across Ireland are highly responsive and well adapted to the current pandemic, this “doesn’t negate the challenges faced by these services”.

Dr Joseph Duffy, CEO of Jigsaw, stated that in the current pandemic there has been increase in support and demand. As of July 20th they plan on rolling out face to face services while following HSE guidelines. Dr Duffy recognised  face to face to support as a “necessity” for some young people and stated that they will be prioritised working hard to provide online support.

The lack of local mental health facilities was considered as many people suffering with mental health issues may struggle to get on public transport in order to receive support from somewhere less local. This is an issue many UCD students have had to deal with due to the need to utilise external services as a result of the limited counselling staff. As of last year, referrals of UCD students to external sources saw an increase of 2500% since the service first began, according to The University Observer.

In relation to the success of the online support, Dr Joseph Duffy detailed that young people beginning with the services may find it better as an introduction as “they can do so anonymously and can build up confidence”. He also stated that there is roughly a 50/50 split between the use of phone and video services among those seeking help.

It was noted that mental health officials have been surprised by the number of young people who are shocked at the support they have been receiving while at home. However while this is so, there are certain families experiencing “distress resulting in conflict at home”. In cases like this anonymity allows some young people to flag their need for further support due to abuse or other issues.

Mr Martin Rogan noted that Ireland “does not compare well with other European countries” in terms of Mental Health Services and that there is an “additional demand” coming. Concerns were expressed in relation to whether these demands can be reached. In an attempt to illustrate the potential costs of some demands Mr Rogan outlined that in the US additional spending on 3 conditions (Anxiety, depression, and post trauma stress) amounted to $13bn following Hurricane Katrina.

Jigsaw have seen an increase in the number of young adults being referred for support. It was stated that before Covid-19, the demand for mental health services for young people outranked the capacity offered and this lack of capacity has been “exacerbated” by the health crisis. The UN and WHO have identified groups of people that are more at risk during these times. Jigsaw have tried to offer as much as possible to provide access to as many people as possible.

Despite the discussion on the increase in the number of referrals among young adults, there was very little discussion on how to tackle this problem within Universities. The College Tribune last week learned that the UCD Counselling Service has been forced to “partially out-source services to cope with demand” and that UCD Management have claimed that it is not “economically viable” to hire more staff to deal with the demand, especially during peak months. This statement was given despite the fact that the college has spent over €19 million on what can only be viewed as “luxuries”.

Casey Conway – Reporter