FILE PHOTO: Ministry of Health Mental Health Director Dr Hazel Othello and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh after a post-Cabinet news conference on March 19.

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There has been a noticeable increase in mental health issues since the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores, including the incidence of more citizens having suicidal thoughts.

This was revealed by the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit Director Dr Hazel Othello during a news conference yesterday.

“There does appear to be more anxiety and depressive disorders as well as increased levels of suicidal thinking and all that goes with that,” she said.

“From what I’ve been hearing from other colleagues from the clinics across the country have been experiencing similar findings.”

Dr Othello, however, noted that it was simply “anecdotal” as she has not compared any figures.

She also stated that the ministry has measures in place to treat these issues.

“The Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Health is in constant collaboration with the heads of the psychiatric departments within the various Regional Health Authorities. From the onset of the pandemic we were aware that a mental health response would be required and we have been liaising with them to ensure that response is being provided,” she said.

“The beneficial thing is that the pandemic occurred at the time when we were already planning to ramp up services as part of de-centralisation of mental health services. The aim of that decentralisation plan is to increase the access to service at the community level so that people can access service near to where they live and that’s the best way to respond to the long-term effects of the pandemic.”

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) release on October 5, the pandemic “is increasing demand for mental health services.”

“Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety,” it said.

This is coupled with the fact that the virus itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke.