Watch: ‘Covid-19 added an additional barrier to those seeking mental health help’

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life as we knew it. The global pandemic brought with it lockdowns, from complete to partial, as it also wreaked havoc on the economy. sat down with psychiatrist Dr Aloisia Camilleri and Johann Borg, a mental health nurse, to speak about the effects of the outbreak of coronavirus and its impact on mental health.

The first case of coronavirus in Malta was recorded on the 7th March. Until the time of writing a total of 2,699 coronavirus cases have been registered in Malta while the virus has claimed 20 lives.

Saturday’s coronavirus bulletin
65 new coronavirus cases registered

The unexpected pandemic brought with it several drastic changes in our daily lives, Dr Camilleri explained. She noted how schools abruptly closed down in the middle of the scholastic year, how people had their income compromised, while others, the front liners, saw their workload increase.

“All this has had an impact on people’s mental health,” she remarked.

Dr Camilleri explained that not everyone who felt the impact of the pandemic necessarily developed mental health issues, but some individuals did not manage to cope with the drastic changes it brought about.

Commenting on the closure of schools, Dr Camilleri said that this had a huge effect on children. She noted that not everyone had the same access to educational materials or the same conditions at home. For some children, going to school would have been a break from the situation at home in case of abuse or domestic violence.

Watch the full interview with Johann Borg

Uncertainty and anxiety

Both Dr Camilleri and Borg spoke about the anxieties brought about by the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Borg explained that the outbreak affected their patients who had their own underlying problems. Some patients found themselves worrying more about what will happen to them, while others saw their daily routines being affected.

Fear of the virus

Dr Camilleri explained that the fear of contracting the virus was greater than seeking help in some cases. People developed mental health problems due to the ongoing uncertainties, while those with existing mental health issues saw their situation being exacerbated due to the pandemic, as their symptoms either re-emerged or else they lost the progress they had made so far.

She noted that the fear of contracting the virus introduced a new barrier to those seeking assistance.

The psychiatrist explained that while more people might require help, not everyone was seeking it. The reasons could be various, including stigma and the need to first admit that one needs help.

Watch the full interview with Dr Aloisia Camilleri

The effect on services

When the coronavirus broke out in Malta, the health authorities sought to maximise bed space to treat potential covid-19 patients who would require hospitalisation.

The Psychiatric Out Patient Unit and Psychiatric Unit, both at Mater Dei Hospital, were closed off and repurposed.

Dr Camilleri noted that during the state of public health emergency, the psychiatrists would only see critical patients at Mater Dei Hospital, while all the other routine appointments were postponed.

She remarked that this saw a population of patients who were already receiving treatment having their service removed.

In the next part of the interview, we shall be speaking with our interviewees on mental health in more generic terms.

Filming and editing: Miguela Xuereb