Malta is not geared up to face the mental health impact of a second wave of the coronavirus, according to the head of the Richmond Foundation.

As anxiety rises along with the incidence of COVID-19 – with more than 1,000 cases now having been recorded since March – Stephania Dimech Sant says the number of people whose mental health has been affected far exceeds this number.

“As a country, our community services are already stretched. We need to bolster our services,” the chief executive said.

Richmond is the foremost mental health NGO and provides some services with government support.

“We are doing very well when it comes to addressing the health aspect of the pandemic, but what about the mental health aspect?” she asked.

International authorities, such as the UN and WHO, are calling on countries to boost resources in mental health.

Ever since the number of coronavirus cases started to spike two weeks ago, the calls to the 24-hour mental health support line 1770 have also gone up – reaching 170 within two weeks compared to 126 in the month between June 20 and July 19.

The support line was set up in April and was receiving nearly 700 calls a month until COVID-19 cases started to drop and the calls fell to less than half that. But they are on the increase again as anxiety levels rise.

“People are struggling with a lot of unknowns. Will there be a lockdown? How will I cope with homeschooling?

“We are also now feeling the repercussions of the economic impact. People who lost their jobs are running out of savings,” Dimech Sant said.

The majority of callers are anxious about their health and contracting the virus. Pregnant women are concerned about having to give birth without the father present. Healthcare workers speak about the fear of being forced to leave their loved ones. Vulnerable people – the elderly and those with chronic conditions – are afraid of loneliness. People whose business has been hit need to know how they can make a living.

Psychiatrist Sasha Taylor East said the fact “we have been there” with the first wave means people are more prepared. Parents, for instance, now have experience with homeschooling and can fine-tune their systems.

“But for those who had a negative experience, there is a lot of dread. While some people are better at coping – as they have the skills and support structure – others are more at risk of a mental health disorder,” she said.

Among them are those at risk of becoming isolated, such as the elderly without internet access, adolescents who crave to meet friends, children of families with toxic dynamics and people with pre-existing mental health disorders.

Taylor East advised maintaining a routine, staying connected and making sure to continue taking any treatment needed.

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