Demand for mental health services is rising in Cork as Covid restrictions continue to ease.

Cork braces for mental health fallout

Cork has seen a dramatic increase in the demand for mental health services in recent months and experts believe a multi-agency approach is key to tackling the issue.

Speaking at a recent Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting, Executive Clinical Director for Mental Health Services in Cork, Dr Sinead O'Brien confirmed the increase in demand.

She said the restrictions have had various effects on people and now, as restrictions ease, people who did not present during the lockdown are beginning to come forward.

“During the pandemic, people initially stayed away from a lot of different services for a period of time.

“The restrictions were taking different tolls on different people but certainly, now that we are emerging from the lockdown, there are groups of people that are finding it extremely stressful.

“We are also seeing a cohort of people that may not have presented as early as they would have previously. I think sometimes people just don't know how to get started,’ she said.

In a HSE presentation delivered at the JPC meeting, Dr O’Brien highlighted that Cork is equipped with a large array of community services, far more than in many other parts of the country.

She said Cork currently has a full community mental health team led by a consultant psychiatrist for each geographical area of the city and county, divided into north Lee, south Lee, north Cork and west Cork. Each of these areas has a number of highly trained, multi-disciplinary teams.

For acute care, Cork’s mental health services includes a number of home-based crisis and treatment teams in all four areas. The function of these teams is to take referrals from individuals who are presenting in crisis.

Although access to mental health services usually comes through a referral from a GP, in certain cases there is an option for the gardaí to contact a local mental health team directly.

This is done through Section 12 of the Mental Health Act 2001 which provides gardaí with powers to take persons believed to be suffering from a mental health disorder into custody.

Since it was brought into law, gardaí across Ireland have used their powers under the Mental Health Act 2001 in approximately 2,500 incidents involving roughly 2,000 individuals.

However, an upcoming review of the Mental Health Act is expected to lessen the role of gardaí in cases pertaining to mental health.

Dr O’Brien did however admit that Cork is restricted in its ability to train higher level psychiatry and psychology specialists which is having a negative impact on recruitment in the field.

“In order to recruit people to senior psychiatry and psychology posts, we need to make sure that we have adequate access to basic level training and then higher specialist training.

“In Cork we have a good base of access to basic specialist training but higher specialist training is quite restricted. In terms of recruitment, we have fared much better than other parts of the country but in order to future proof our service, I would recommend increasing the number of higher specialist training posts. We would have a much more secure senior staffing base going forward,” said Dr O’Brien.

Responding to the presentation, Independent Cllr Frank Roche said he believes people, particularly the farming community, are being “driven around the bend by the letter in the post. On a daily basis I’m hearing from people who are getting letters from the Revenue, the Department of Agriculture, Health and Safety, the RSA - the stress levels that these people are expressing is absolutely frightening. I know a few of these people that are not with us anymore. Their stress and solicitor letters drove them to do what they did,” said Cllr Roche.

Sinn Fein TD for Cork North-Central, Thomas Gould called on the Government to implement an emergency plan to tackle the mental health fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.