Mental health crisis looms as pandemic grips Europe

Paramedics in Wales say many patients require some element of mental health care

A social distancing sign in Wales, where paramedics say they are seeing more calls with a mental health aspect. Reuters
A social distancing sign in Wales, where paramedics say they are seeing more calls with a mental health aspect. Reuters

The mental health ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt across Europe as lockdown orders keep people apart, experts fear.

In Wales, paramedic crews say mental health can play a part in almost every call they answer.

In Germany, paediatricians have warned that social restrictions are helping to magnify the fear factor and raise the prospect of a looming mental health crisis.

As the anecdotal evidence gathers pace, medics are calling for steps to avert the feared crisis.

One study found about one child in three is suffering from pandemic-related anxiety. AFP
One study found about one child in three is suffering from pandemic-related anxiety. AFP

Paramedics in Wales shared their first-hand experiences of a growing mental crisis, as the UK neared the two-month mark of its latest lockdown.

“Some shifts we can see every patient will have some element of mental health,” paramedic Kieran McClelland said.

“Whether that was the primary reason for the call or not, that makes it really challenging for us because we have limited ways of dealing with these things other than A&E (accident and emergency department).”

Ruth Lander, a trainer for the NHS 111 Wales non-emergency call service, said many patients were “really anxious, really scared” on top of any medical issues.

Simon Jones, head of policy for the Mind Cymru mental health charity, said that, for some, the pandemic will have a “lasting impact”.

“Providing sort of early intervention and early support services are absolutely crucial,” Mr Jones said.

“Some people will look at the last 12 months and say ‘well that was a tough period’, they’ll see friends and family again and quickly move on. For others it’s going to be a lasting impact and it’s really important we have those support services in place and we can take people forward.”

Germany, with 13.7 million children and teenagers, entered its second national lockdown in December.

About one child in three has pandemic-related anxiety or depression or is exhibiting psychosomatic symptoms like headaches or stomach aches, a recent survey by the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf found.

Children from poorer and immigrant families were disproportionally affected, according to the survey.

Arche is a Berlin centre where social workers and educators can meet child clients, but most of the work is now video chats and remote learning.

“Many have completely withdrawn and don’t want to get out of their rooms anymore. They’ve gained a lot of weight, are playing online games nonstop and don’t have any more structure in their everyday lives,” Arche founder Bernd Siggelkow said.

“We don’t have any long-term studies yet, but there’s lots of anecdotal evidence of a crisis-driven rise in hospitalisations and overflowing psychologists’ practices,” Julia Asbrand, a professor of child and youth psychology at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Back in Wales, Jason Killens, chief executive of Welsh Ambulance Service, warned that more mental health experts will be needed.

“We’re certainly looking to enhance what we can do here in Wales, certainly in the ambulance service, to support mental health patients. And I expect to see more specialist mental health services within the ambulance service in the next 12 months.”

Published: February 27, 2021 08:54 PM

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