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Status of Mental Health Service during COVID-19

Update from Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services

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About: Sligo/Leitrim Mental Health Services

picture of Edmond O'Mahony

My name is Ed O’Mahony and I am a consultant psychiatrist. I am also the executive clinical director of the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Service. I want to talk about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on patients mental health and also how the pandemic has affected the mental health services. I want to reassure people that the vast majority of our services are still available and explain the ways people can get help if they or someone they care about is struggling with their mental health.

It’s been a difficult year in so many ways. Everyone in the country has been affected by Covid-19. People have worried about their own health or about the health of vulnerable family members. People have lost jobs, struggled financially and had their routines turned upside down. We have been unable to meet with family and friends and we are missing the company and the comfort that that can bring. It’s hard to look forward to things or to make plans for the future.

I think it is particularly hard for people who already have mental health problems to cope at these times. Many of the usual healthy things that we do to help us cope are not available to us any more – like visiting a friend, meeting up for a cup of tea or a meal, going to the gym, playing sports or going to the cinema or watching live music. Going on Zoom meetings or doing things online can be great – but it won’t suit everyone and it lacks the human connection that meeting people face to face gives you.

Here within the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Service we have made every effort to keep as many of our services going as possible throughout the past year. All of our outpatient clinics have continued – although at the moment most consultations are done by phone or by video call. However we are still offering face to face appointments for first visits and for crisis appointments. When prescriptions need to be updated, we can send them directly to your pharmacy. Our community teams are still operating with telephone or video calls. So, your key worker, nurse, social worker, occupational therapist, psychologist or therapist can still keep in touch. And if needed, it is still possible to be seen face to face.

The only thing which we have had to stop is large group meetings – and this includes the Dochas Clubhouse in Sligo.  However, we will be guided by public health advice and as soon as group activities are again permitted, we will aim to restore those services. I can say that there are active plans to reopen Dochas as soon as possible and in the meantime the facilities are being upgraded.

In the meantime, there are many ways in which people can try to maintain mental well-being.

  • Stay connected – keep in touch with people who you care about and who care about you. This helps to give us perspective on life and prevents loneliness becoming a serious problem.
  • Exercise – now that the evenings are getting longer and the weather is improving, make a point of exercising if you can every day or most days. It’s not only good for your physical health, but it’s great for your mental health also. Exercise helps the body to reduce your “stress” hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. And after brisk exercise, the body produces “feel good” chemicals such as endorphins which can make you feel relaxed and optimistic.
  • Eat healthy foods – The important thing is to have variety in what you eat. For example; fruit and vegetables, whole grains, fish. And drink plenty of water.
  • Do stuff that you enjoy – even if you’ve gotten out of the habit. Listening to music, reading, relaxation, yoga are just a few examples.
  • Try not to spend too much time looking at news feeds online which are about the Covid-19 situation. It might be helpful to allow yourself a certain amount of news every day to catch up, but avoid overdoing it. It can cause unnecessary worry. And remember to use reliable news sources.
  • Avoid drug use or alcohol excess – it can be tempting, when it seems like there is so little to do. Most mental health problems are made a lot worse rather than improved by their use.

However some people will be doing a lot of those things and still find that their mental health problems are not getting any better. In that case my advice would be to look for help. First of all, talk to a friend or family member. Then there’s your family doctor or GP. Sligo and Leitrim both have Social Prescribing Coordinators that can connect us with supports to help our social and physical health as well as our emotional and mental wellbeing. For more information contact:

  • (Leitrim) Sarah O’Connell; on 0860663789 or email: sarah.breffnifrc@gmail.com
  • (Sligo) Loretta McLoughlin; on 0834036985 or email: lorettasfrc@gmail.com
  • (Tubbercurry) Mary Kilroy; on 0864092724 or email: socialprescribing@tubbercurryfrc.com

And if further help is required, that’s what the mental health service is there for. We are open for business and will remain so. If you are a service user never be afraid to phone with your query or problem.

We in Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services view service user and supporter engagement as an important part of how we design and deliver our services. Two of the ways, in which we engage with people using mental health services and their supporters, are through our Sligo Leitrim Local Engagement Forum and Care Opinion.

You can tell your story of care using this link: https://www.careopinion.ie/kiosk/sligo-leitrim-mh

If you would like to connect to our Sligo Leitrim Engagement Forum contact Patrick on 087 3512009 or email new.engage@hse.ie

Thank you and take care.

Dr Ed O’Mahony

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