Mental Health in Ireland During COVID-19
According to the Human Development Index (HDI), Ireland is the second most developed country. The index ranks countries based on life expectancy, schooling and gross national income. However, the number of people with mental illness in Ireland is among the highest in Europe. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened mental health in Ireland.
In 2016, records indicated that 18.5% of the Irish population had a mental health illness. In 2018, The Irish Times ran an article about the prevalence of mental health issues. The paper reported that mental health problems cost the Irish economy over €8.2 billion a year. This is equal to roughly $9.9 billion in the United States. The report stated that one in six individuals in Europe received a mental illness diagnosis in 2016 and that more than 84,000 deaths were due to mental illness or suicide in 2015.
Stigma has a vastly negative impact on mental illnesses in Ireland. Just like in many other countries, those with mental illness fear ridicule and isolation. This can delay people in getting the help they need. Although programs to try and lessen the stigma have been circulating over the years, stigma remains an issue that prevents those who need help from getting it.
The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Mental Health in Ireland
An article from the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, published in May 2020, identified health needs that could occur and require addressing during four waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first wave of the pandemic, the idea was that Ireland’s health system should prepare to address health needs that would emerge during the subsequent waves.
The article determined that during the second wave of the pandemic, people would not seek medical care due to a fear they would become infected with COVID-19. In fact, many people with non-serious conditions and preexisting mental health conditions held off from attending regularly scheduled appointments.
Estimates have determined that the fourth wave will be the largest and longest phase of the pandemic. It is not likely to peak until months after the other phases and could continue for months after COVID-19 infections start dropping. In this fourth wave, the healthcare industry could see many new mental illness cases. Indeed, these could involve those mourning COVID-19 losses, frontline workers under stress, COVID-19 survivors and more. There will also likely be many cases of relapse among those who already struggled with mental health illnesses before the pandemic.
In Ireland, the funding for mental health services has remained low, especially compared with other countries. Compared to New Zealand and the United Kingdom, which both have 12% of the overall health budget allocated to mental health services, Ireland allocates roughly 6%. Investments and innovation are urgent to ensure that people do not overwhelm mental health services. Moreover, it is essential that professionals can respond accordingly when necessary. A survey of 195 psychiatrists in Ireland found that there was an increased number of referrals for anxiety disorders and depression as of 2021.
Ireland added another €1 billion to the healthcare budget for 2020. This funding went toward extending free childcare and providing additional employment for therapists and nurses. The additional therapists could help curb the state of mental health in Ireland.
In addition, Ireland’s budget for 2021 includes another €4 billion for healthcare. Additionally, new mental health services will receive €38 million in funding. The plan will be for the enhancement of mental health community teams, child and adolescent mental health services, crisis resolution services, development of clinical care programs and investment in peer support workers and employment supports.
Mental illness in Ireland is a pronounced issue to society, and the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened it. The increase in funding for healthcare in the budget shows that the government has taken steps towards improving mental health services. It may take time to overcome the hurdles pertaining to mental health, but Ireland is making an effort.
– Courtney Roe