Demand for mental health supports and suicide prevention services have soared across Ireland during the 13-month Covid-19 pandemic.
he revelation from Ireland’s first Professor of Public Mental Health, Prof Ella Arensman, has verified mounting anecdotal concerns that the pandemic is having a significant mental health impact through extended isolation, lack of social interaction, financial stress and personal fears about the virus. Studies are now under way to determine the impact successive pandemic lockdowns have had on mental health. Suicide statistics for 2020 will not be available for three years.
However, while there is anecdotal evidence of a surge in mental health-related pleas for help during the pandemic, there is no indication the number of suicides has soared significantly above levels experienced pre-Covid-19 in 2018 or 2019. GPs revealed that pleas for mental health supports over the past year have been linked to loneliness, isolation, depression, stress over financial issues and emotional problems due to loss of a loved one in the pandemic.
Medical experts warned that such feelings have been amplified by the loss of normal processing systems during the pandemic such as funerals, social gatherings and household visits.
Prof Arensman has worked for over 30 years on public mental health and suicide prevention research. “Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the attention for public mental health and suicide prevention has been greater than ever,” she said.
“My colleagues and I in the National Suicide Research Foundation and School of Public Health have seen a significant increase in requests for policy briefings and research collaborations over the past year. For example, the requests for real-time suicide and self-harm data to inform mental health promotion and suicide prevention programmes during Covid-19 have increased over the past year.
“Requests for mental health expertise in interdisciplinary research consortia focusing on intervention and prevention measures for infectious diseases and other public health emergencies have also increased.” Prof Arensman said it was “a great honour” to become Ireland’s first Professor of Public Mental Health.
“This position is timely and will contribute to strengthen suicide prevention research and public mental health in the NSRF, School of Public Health, UCC, and at national and international level,” she said.
Prof Arensman will continue in her current role as Chief Scientist at the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF), while leading groundbreaking research on suicide and self-harm within UCC’s School of Public Health.
UCC’s Dean of the Public Health School, Prof Ivan Perry, said it was an enormously important appointment.
“Prof Arensman is a global leader in public mental health who has made an enormous contribution to work on the causes and prevention of self-harm and suicide in Ireland and internationally,” he said.
As well as being an expert advisor for the World Health Organisation (WHO), Prof Arensman is a former President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, is Vice President of the European Alliance Against Depression, and a Steering Group member of the International Covid-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration.