Covid-19: Mental health and addiction services in South Auckland are in high demand.

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Since last month, the Counties Manukau DHB has seen an increase in mental health and addiction services admissions as it battles the latest Covid-19 outbreak.

Counties Manukau Health’s mental health and addiction services general manager Charles Tutagalevao says Middlemore Hospital's emergency department has seen an increase in young people with anxiety related issues.

Counties Manukau Health’s mental health and addiction services general manager Charles Tutagalevao says Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department has seen an increase in young people with anxiety related issues. Photo: SUPPLIED

A healthcare worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department had seen a noticeable rise in such patients.

“We’re not only handling a lot of Covid-19 patients, but we’re also handling a lot of mental health patients as well…it’s crazy,” they said.

“We have processes in place to deal with it, but the mental health system is overloaded. It’s just another level of stress and anxiety for the staff who have to deal with it.”

Counties Manukau Health’s mental health and addiction services general manager Charles Tutagalevao confirmed there had been a sudden rise in admissions to its Tiaho Mai mental health unit in September. This included a number of alcohol and drug related cases.

And last week there was also an increase in young people presenting at the Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department (ED) with “anxiety related distress” issues.

“ED as a whole has been very busy for the past two weeks. We’ve increased mental health resources within ED to help improve the flow of patients presenting,” he said.

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“The impact of the lockdown, seen in the level of distress, is a lot more visible now than it was six weeks ago,” Tutagalevao said.

“What’s increased, is the acuity and complexity of the situations people are in, particularly where drug and alcohol use is involved.”

Counties Manukau Health’s Tiaho Mai mental health unit has seen a sudden rise in admissions to its Tiaho Mai mental health unit

Counties Manukau Health’s Tiaho Mai mental health unit has seen a sudden rise in admissions to its Tiaho Mai mental health unit Photo: SUPPLIED

Last month Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson predicted a growing demand for mental health services in South Auckland as people grapple with the pressures of the latest Covid-19 lockdown.

“What we’re seeing in Auckland is a higher percentage of people who are distressed this time and their mental wellbeing has been affected. It is of course cumulative as well – as the pandemic goes on, the mental and emotional impacts build.”

The area has been hit hard by the latest outbreak of the pandemic and the latest figures from Counties Manukau DHB are in keeping with his previous prediction.

“There is definitely a mounting impact on the mental wellbeing of the Auckland population with the ongoing Covid pandemic,” Robinson said. “People are languishing rather than more acutely unwell, but languishing can lead to increased substance abuse as a coping mechanism.”

But Robinson said the mental health impacts of out of control Covid would be far worse, with increased deaths, significant long term health impacts from long-Covid and an increase in depression and anxiety expected.

“There are things we can do to help lift the community out of mental and emotional languishing. That must be the focus as part of the Delta outbreak response across Aotearoa.”

In July last year, a paper to the Counties Manukau District Health Board’s Hospital Advisory Committee said its residential mental health inpatient unit, Tiaho Mai, noted a marked increase in the length of stay of patients in May during the lockdown.

It also recorded “a marked increase” in referrals following the end of lockdown, with the largest increase coming from Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department. The DHB’s child and adolescent mental health services also saw a rise in patient numbers.

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Local Democracy Reporting

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