COVID-19 has had a major impact on the mental health of people nationwide, GPs have warned.
Two GPs from the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) highlighted this issue during an address to the Oireachtas Committee on Mental Health on Thursday. They warned of a growing incidence of common mental health problems, as well as more noticeable neuro-psychiatric disorders associated with the pandemic.
According to Dr Denis McCauley, chairperson of the IMO's GP Committee and Dr Sumi Dunne of the same committee, these mental health issues "can arise from direct effects of infection and of long COVID syndrome, with enforced isolation and quarantine, and with additional stressors arising from abnormal bereavement, job losses, interfamilial tensions or sudden impoverishment".
"They can present as an acute psychiatric diagnosis or an exacerbation of previous issues, including domestic violence or increased alcohol or drug use," the GPs noted.
Dr Dunne also highlighted that the incidence of mental health problems in children and teenagers is increasing, with studies indicating that as many as one in six young teenagers display evidence of diagnosable mental health disorders.
However, specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are severely under resourced. As a result 2,229 young people with serious mental health and behavioural problems are on a waiting list for an initial assessment with a CAMHS team.
Over one-third of these are already waiting longer than six months, Dr Dunne told the Oireachtas Committee.
The GPs also criticised the lack of mental heath funding in general practice, pointing out that 90% of mental health issues are managed in general practice without referral to specialist services.
Dr McCauley insisted that the failure to properly fund mental health care in general practice, including funding counselling and psychotherapy services, can lead to an over-reliance on drug therapy.
Furthermore, if specialist mental health services in the acute service are also inadequately resourced, the only way for many patients to access services is via emergency out-of-hours services or already stretched Emergency Departments.
The IMO made a number of recommendations to the Oireachtas Committee, including:
-More investment in publicly funded counselling and psychotherapy services and supports in the community, accessible on GP referral. It was noted that many practices have available rooms, which could facilitate these services
-Appropriately resource CAMHS to ensure timely access for vulnerable young patients
-Address the difficulties in recruiting and retaining specialist consultants throughout the health system.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.