Conference hears how social isolation leaves older people more vulnerable to mental health issues
Prof Brendan Kelly shares tips for managing mental health during the global pandemic
The impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic on mental health and well-being was explored today at the St. John of God Research Foundation Study Day.
Expert speakers, including Prof Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and Consultant Psychiatrist at Tallaght University Hospital, Dr Ruth Loane, Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry at Saint John of God Hospital and Dr Joseph Duffy, CEO of Jigsaw examined how the general population has coped during Covid -19, the long-term impact on the mental health of young people, the pressures faced by health care workers and the consequences of social isolation on older people. It also looked at how mental health and disability services have been affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.
The impact of Covid-19 on older persons was discussed by Dr Ruth Loane, Consultant Psychiatrist in Old Age Psychiatry at St John of God Hospital. Since March 2020 St John of God’s Hospital has seen an increase in older people being both referred and admitted. The hospital has also seen an increase in people with no previous psychiatric history presenting with very serious illness, including major depressive episodes.
Speaking about the impact of the pandemic and the impact of the subsequent restrictions, on the mental health of older people Dr Loane said, “In the initial stages of the pandemic there was a major focus on the vulnerabilities of older people and how they were more likely to die, this caused huge anxiety among older people. We also know that social distancing and quarantine causes social isolation, a well-recognised risk factor for depression. Older people are especially vulnerable to this as they are unable to visit family, hug or even see their grandchildren, there is a lack of access to leisure facilities, day care centres and places of worship, all of the places which would have provided a social connectedness.”
Referring to the older people who are resident in nursing home settings Dr Loane said “The visiting restrictions to nursing homes are especially difficult for people with dementia as there is a huge risk of both social isolation and deteriorating cognition without the stimulation that family provide.”
Ms Mary Morrissey, Psychology Lead, HSE, Research & Evidence, Strategic Planning and Transformation spoke about the Impact of Covid-19 on Healthcare Workers. In her experience some of the main causes of stress Healthcare Workers face in their roles come from increased responsibilities; and working in high pressure acute, community and Public Health settings during COVID-19 . Ms. Morrissey spoke about Psychological First Aid (PFA), the provision of practical support, resources, and referral to appropriate services, which has been found to be helpful in responding to distress during a pandemic.
Ms. Morrissey said “Healthcare Workers are experiencing stress and uncertainty in extraordinary circumstances. It can affect their wellbeing and impact sleep. They need support, clarity and good communication as they adapt daily to new pressures, responsibilities and environments.”
Stressing the importance of providing psychological wellbeing support to Healthcare Workers , Ms. Morrissey said “The basic needs of Healthcare Workers need to be considered and programmes such as the HSE Minding Your Wellbeing Programme for Staff and the Public is very important and has been very well received.”
Prof Mary McCarron, Director of the Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability, discussed how the closure of day-care services due to Covid -19 restrictions for those with an intellectual disability caused mental health pressures for those receiving the service and their carers.
Speaking about the impact of Covid-19 on young people, Joseph Duffy CEO of Jigsaw said “ A key feature and notable among users of Jigsaws service during the first lockdown was the isolation young people felt from social and community settings, their social support and peer network. About one-third of young people, who sought support from Jigsaw, would have said their mental health was impacted by Covid-19.”
The keynote speaker Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, and Consultant Psychiatrist at Tallaght University Hospital provided practical strategies for coping with Coronavirus and managing mental health and well-being.
Challenging a prevailing narrative about the ‘new normal’ Prof Kelly said “The new normal is not a helpful phrase, there is nothing normal about the times we are living in.”
He outlined his five tips for managing mental health:
- Give ourselves and each other permission to be upset -these are tough times
- Limit media intake about the global pandemic to 15 minutes, twice a day
- Prioritise routine above all else, this is especially true if isolating
- Get outside and get out of our heads – we cannot always think our way out of anxiety
- Find an activity that absorbs us – knitting, gardening, walking – things that people naturally do to bring a state of absorption similar to mindfulness
Dr Lesley O’ Hara, General Manager of St. John of God Research Foundation said “Today’s conference was the second in a series to mark the 30th St. John Of God Research Foundation Study Day. I want to thank the speakers for providing a comprehensive view of the impact of Covid -19 on adult, older-age adults, child, and adolescent mental health and on the wellbeing of the men and women attending intellectual disability services.
“The final online conference in this series takes place Tuesday 24th November and will explore the evolution of mental health and intellectual disability services over the last 30 years. The Saint John of God Research Foundation will highlight the research that has impacted service provision to date and identify future needs. The conference is free to attend and I would encourage anyone interested to register.”
Speakers on the day will include Prof Fiona McNicholas Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry UCD, Consultant at Children Hospital Ireland, Crumlin and Lucena Clinic, SJOG, Professor Colin O’ Gara, Head of Addiction Services at Saint John of God Hospital, and Professor Mary Clarke, consultant psychiatrist SJOG DETECT service.
To register for the final 30th Saint John of God Research Study Day go to https://sjogresearchfoundation.ie/research-study-day-2020/