Richard Hogan: Supporting mental health of our most vulnerable during pandemic

We must look at our most vulnerable, those who need help, analyse what they need and make sure that they can receive it.
Richard Hogan: Supporting mental health of our most vulnerable during pandemic

Last Saturday was World Mental Health day. The celebration of maintaining good and sustainable mental health couldn’t have come at a better time. 

Anyone working in the mental health service, over the last number of months, would have been struck by the sheer volume of people seeking therapy. And while all the talk was about the service industry and the road map back to opening, which of course is hugely significant, there has been little talk from the Government about a road map on mental health promotion or how to support those families experiencing difficulties due to the stress the pandemic has placed on them. 

The pandemic has rocked the very foundations of what we hold as concrete norms. I see it with the families I work with, the pressure the family is under is unsustainable. The lack of income, the health of loved ones, the sense of confinement, the inability to connect with friends, childcare, lack of availability of services are a few of the issues I hear on a daily basis in my clinic. Families are struggling and we need to address this issue as a matter of urgency.

World Mental Health day should have been more focused on the current crisis this year and dealt specifically with the issues of living through a pandemic and not just generic ideas like; connect, be active, take notice and give. Of course, these are important aspects of feeling good, there is no doubt about that. 

But I question the significance of those ideas during a global pandemic. We are mammals, which means we love to be connected, this is why we organise ourselves in clusters like cities, so being connected is important for our sense of belonging. 

So, I understand why connection is the first important idea being offered by World Mental Health day to better protect our mental health. However, we are not able to connect at the moment, so perhaps giving ideas about how to connect during the global crisis would have been more beneficial than offering generic ideas that really have no relevance for the current global health crisis we are facing as a people. 

I often find this is the problem with mental health promotion. It’s more lip service or what someone thinks sounds good than any real penetrating insight into better managing ourselves and our mental health. I see it in schools, all the talk about mental health, but zero insight into how to actually promote better mental health practices. 

Posters like, ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ do little to help children struggling with a mental health issue.

So we need to think, what is it people need right now in the middle of a global health crisis? We have to analyse how to deliver that to people struggling and not what sounds good on a poster.

I noticed, this week, that a State watchdog specifically for our mental health service entered this debate. State watchdogs rarely enter public discourse unless the issue is pressing and current. I spoke with John Farrelly (Chief Executive of the Mental Health Commission) this week and he outlined his concern about what is currently happening in Ireland. 

He explained that "prioritising mental health has never been more critical than it is now". Mr Farrelly said: "The Mental Health Commission has written to the government advising that a National Mental Health Promotion and Support Plan be prioritised and implemented immediately." 

Mr Farrelly was very clear about what he sees as the issue. "We need an organised, integrated plan to help people and families hope and heal. The COVID 19 pandemic has significantly impacted mental health services and almost everyone is experiencing increased levels of uncertainty, stress, and anxiety as our confirmed cases increase." 

I couldn’t agree more. I have seen it first hand in my clinic. The volume has increased dramatically. But what about those who don’t seek help because they can’t afford it or don’t actually know how to access a service, or those stuck on waiting lists so long they give up? What happens with those families? We need to make funding available so families that need help, get help.

 Keeping our economy going and getting people back into employment is obviously a hugely significant endeavour that our government is consumed with at the present time and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of those who are struggling, mentally. For, if we are to pull out of this current nosedive we must take a holistic approach to our recovery. 

We must look at our most vulnerable, those who need help, analyse what they need and make sure that they can receive it. If we don’t, the ripple effects of this crisis will be felt for many years after we find a vaccine.


More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up