Covid-19: Experts predict growing pressure on south Auckland mental health services

2:03 pm on 16 September 2021

Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson is predicting a growth in demand for mental health services in south Auckland as people grapple with the pressures of the latest Covid-19 lockdown.

Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson says there will be a long tail of increasdemand for mental health services after the lastest lockdown.

Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson says there will be a long tail of increasdemand for mental health services after the lastest lockdown. Photo: Chris Skelton/Stuff

The area has been hit hard by the latest outbreak of the pandemic, with 381 cases linked to a church in Māngere.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that the Auckland region would remain in alert level 4 for at least another week.

Robinson said the impact on people's mental wellbeing in affected areas like south Auckland would continue to be felt even after the city moved out of the current lockdown.

"What we're seeing in Auckland is a higher percentage of people who are distressed this time and their mental wellbeing has been affected. It is of course cumulative as well - as the pandemic goes on, the mental and emotional impacts build.

"Even if Covid-19 ended tomorrow and there was no pandemic, we would still see the long-term impact of this lockdown on people's mental health. And unfortunately we are going to be living with this for a long time to come," Robinson said.

"We know from natural disasters, like the Christchurch earthquakes, that the impact on people's mental health has a long tail and, the longer something goes on, for the longer the tail."

In July last year, a paper to the Counties Manukau District Health Board's Hospital Advisory Committee said its residential mental health inpatient unit, Tiaho Mai, noted a marked increase in the length of stay of patients in May during the lockdown.

It also recorded "a marked increase" in referrals following the end of lockdown, with the largest increase coming from Middlemore Hospital's emergency department. The DHB's child and adolescent mental health services also saw a rise in patient numbers.

Robinson said the Mental Health Foundation was trying to target its wellbeing support services to make sure they work in areas like south Auckland.

"But all mental health services are under pressure and Covid-19 is only adding to those pressures."

Otago University psychology professor Richie Poulton said that, according to a variety of service providers from around the country, there has been an increase in demand for services during the current Delta outbreak.

He said that is in keeping with what happened during last year's Covid-19 lockdown.

"However, this is probably the tip of the iceberg because many people are reluctant to avail themselves of services, either because of the stigma associated with emotional vulnerability, or perhaps due to negative experience in the past with the extant services."

Poulton said there were a number of common psychological problems that came from the upheaval of a lockdown.

"The loss of normal routine and predictability leads to feeling depressed and/or anxious, substance use tends to increase, as does the likelihood of other harmful events such as example domestic violence," he said.

Counties Manukau Health general manager of mental health and addiction services Charles Tutagalevao said it is too early to say how much of an impact the latest Delta outbreak is having on mental health services in south Auckland.

But he said, based on previous lockdown scenarios and daily reports, the length of time patients are spending in care is increasing.

Tutagalevao said the combined data from August and September would provide a better understanding of the situation.

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