COVID-19 increases risk of mental illness and some groups are at higher risk but it is wrong to speak of ‘tsunami’ of psychological problems, says Prof. O’Neill

Professor Siobhán O’Neill has said it is wrong to speak of a ‘tsunami of mental illness’ arising from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 4:44 pm

However, the mental health champion, acknowledged studies have shown higher levels of stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are being experienced and reported.

The Claudy-native urged the Stormont Health Committee to promote a ‘trauma-informed’ recovery plan to help people adversely affected by the pandemic who may have already been coping with past traumas.

“Very clearly the majority of us are not at risk of mental illness. This is what we would have expected because most people, even when terrible things happen, very distressing things, don’t develop mental illness. Healing occurs. We cope. We have evolved to be very, very resilient. So phrases like the ‘tsunami of mental illness’ - those sort of phrases are not appropriate, because healing and recovery and even growth are likely if we manage recovery very well,” she said.

Prof. O’Neill said some groups are at higher risk of adverse mental health through emotional ‘dysregulation’ due to trauma.

“They are children, young people, women, people with children at home and people with existing physical or mental illness, people on very low incomes and unpaid carers. There is also a mental health risk that comes from the COVID-19 infection itself. So COVID-19 is associated with a higher risk of mental illness, particularly among people with severe infection, those with long COVID-19 and people who were hospitalised,” she said.

She noted ‘really high rates of distress and even PTSD’ among health workers saying women are disproportionately affected.