A mental health charity chief has warned of a “slow-burn effect” from the impact of coronavirus restrictions, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Martin Rogan, chief executive of Mental Health Ireland, said that while people had coped in the immediacy of lockdown measures, the aftermath might not be felt for some time.
The Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, which discussed the impact the pandemic has had on mental health services, heard that demand for help had increased by 200%.
Mr Rogan said mental health issues may be exacerbated throughout the crisis.
“Sometimes when a person has a mental health issue they do their utmost to pretend they are fine. When some family members came together they discovered their partner, son or daughter was masking a significant mental health issue, be it anxiety, depression or perhaps an eating disorder,” he told the committee.
“We can expect to see a slow-burn effect in terms of Covid. People cope in the immediacy of the here and now but when people look back they feel the dislocated effect from those certain routines that protected their health.”
Kate Mitchell, senior policy and research officer at Mental Health Reform, said that a survey published on Tuesday showed the increase in prevalence of mental health difficulties and increase in demand for support.
“While the sector has been incredibly responsive, it doesn’t negate that there are challenges for these services,” she added.
“Many of our members say Covid-19 has had a negative impact. Seventy-five percent report they had to withdraw services they would usually provide.
“It is imperative that the community and voluntary sector have additional support and resources.”
Dr Joseph Duffy, chief executive of Jigsaw, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, said there had been a 200% increase in the number of people seeking support through their mental health platforms.
Paul Longmore, acting clinical director of Jigsaw, said that some young people had found support within their family.
He said: “For some young people we have spoken to, their family situation has proven very supportive.
“We have seen the importance of a supportive adult in the life of a young person and some have been pleasantly surprised by how their family have come together to support them at a difficult time, when they are missing out on structure, such as school.
“There are certain families who are experiencing certain distress and sometimes that is manifesting in relationships.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 12% of total health spending should be allocated to mental health care. In Ireland, this number is less that 7%.
In a statement, Mr Rogan said that “fundamental constraint” needed to be addressed before considering how additional demands associated with Covid-19 could be met.
Mr Rogan also said that Ireland did not compare well with its European partners in relation to its mental health budget.