Across Europe and the world, experts are reporting ongoing challenges to the mental health of individuals and communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the reports revolve around the effects of lockdown and mounting anxieties over the future.
As the resurgence of the virus in Malta carries on apace, the negative impact on peoples’ mental health looks set to magnify.
In the UK, which recently reinstated travel restrictions in regard to Malta, the research institute MIND has assessed a rapid deterioration in the country’s overall mental health, while warning of a potentially bigger crisis in the future.
Young women have been found to experience the highest levels of anxiety and depression during lockdown in a study from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Meanwhile, researchers from Relate, the UK’s largest provider of relationship support, report that single men were at risk of pathological loneliness. Similar research is being conducted nationally by the Richmond Foundation, to assess the toll of the pandemic on the mental well-being of people in Malta. As social interaction is impacted and individual responsibility, in service to the communal good, comes to the foreground, underlying problems provoked by the pandemic look set to continue.
The uncertainty, unpredictability and sense of lacking control created by the pandemic has resulted in an existential crisis for many people, causing individuals to question their purpose or the meaning of life in general.
This has led to more people experiencing higher levels of anxiety, stress or depression, as indicated by mental health authorities and NGOs in Malta over the past months.
However, other signs of mental distress can be more subtle in their manifestations: changes in routine, diet and drinking, social withdrawal, self-sabotaging behaviours and self-harm. Reaching out for help as soon as one becomes aware there is a struggle is essential, yet due to an overloaded infrastructure and lack of essential investment in mental health services, such assistance may be out of reach.
The closure of the psychiatric outpatients department at Mater Dei Hospital has placed individuals in an impossible situation, described as a “limbo” of anxiety by professionals working in the mental health sector.
According to Mario Galea, Nationalist MP, who bravely shared his own mental health struggles in an article published by Times of Malta on Sunday, there has been a systematic “butchering” of national mental health services.
The reality is that the increase in cases is not being met by a concomitant increase in the number of professionals trained to deal with the fast evolving, increasingly complex situation.
As the livelihoods of people directly affected by the pandemic and its repercussions come into question, economic priorities that serve the few must be re-established with a view to creating authentic well-being for all.
Without investing in the holistic health of local communities, there can be no effective rebuilding of trust after the terrible mismanagement of this pandemic by those authorities whose duty it is to keep the nation safe.
With little sense of coordination, and outright conflict between government and the medical experts in Malta on key issues of public health, such a sense of safety is in dangerously short supply.
It is finally time to place the mental and emotional health of people in Malta at the heart of national strategies, rather than continue to pursue a blind obsession with economic gain that has already proved to be the Achilles’ heel of Maltese healthcare policy, ushering in a second and more virulent wave of the coronavirus.