Mental health services must be properly funded to deal with the impacts of the COVID pandemic, according to psychotherapist Joanna Fortune.
She was speaking after the CEO of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services Paul Gilligan warned that we are in danger of talking ourselves into a post covid mental health crisis.
He warned that, while we have to recognise the psychological fallout from the past 18 months, sensational phrases like ‘the coming mental health tsunami’ can stoke fear unnecessarily – and give the impression that there is nothing that can be done about it.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Joanna Fortune said that while there will be an impact from the pandemic – we need to prepare for it, rather than simply talk about it.
“We don’t need to sit here saying, ‘it’s coming, it’s coming and waiting,” she said.
“Instead, what we should be doing is proactively putting in place supports and mechanisms that can problem-solve and support people as they come into this.
“We are great in this country for being reactive – let’s wait for the problem we anticipate to be a huge problem and then we do something.
“Instead, I hear this as a call for let’s get pro-active. Let’s put supports in place now, let’s resource services and let’s make sure that we, in terms of service provision, are a step ahead of this problem.”
She said anyone who finds themselves struggling for the first time due to the pandemic needs to know that there are supports available.
“We are all aware this has had a huge impact and it would be naïve to say it is not really an issue – but I don’t read that as what Paul was saying,” she said.
“I think what we want getting out there is, if this is you, instead of sitting there saying well it is inevitable that I am going to have this terrible experience and I am going to have this really challenging time, let’s get services resourced so that narrative can shift to, if you are struggling, here is where you go, this is what you do, these are the steps available and there are services there to support you.
“Then it won’t overwhelm anybody. Then I know I am having a problem and I know exactly where I need to go and who I need to talk to about it and that those services can be responsive,
“That is the biggest fear I have is that services are so overwhelmed at the moment … can we be as responsive as we need to be, as we want to be for people who are in the throes of struggle?”
Ms Fortune said it is normal to have some degree of anxiety – although it is never pleasant and people need the support of their loved ones to deal with it.
“If you are anxious in anticipation of exam results for example, that is context-specific anxiety,” she said.
“When you get the results one way or another that anxiety will lower, lower and dissipate because the context as shifted. It is transient, you know why you are anxious, you know what you are anxious about.
“It is the anxiety that is more pervasive, that isn’t context-specific, that is there more often than it is not. When you don’t really know what you are anxious about and sometimes you are anxious because you are anxious and you don’t know why; it is having a pervasive impact on all aspects of your life.
“That is something we would look at as an over and above level of anxiety.”
If you or someone you know is in need of support you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or by emailing email@example.com.
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