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Covid-19 impact on mental health will ‘come to fore’ in coming months

Anxiety, depression and work-related stress are common issues, but counsellor Bernie Hackett says that, due to Covid-19, they’ve become the predominant reasons people are seeking help.

“Anxiety and depression would be quite prevalent in the presenting issues for clients at the moment,” she says. “It may not present initially. Somebody might ring you about a work issue, or a family issue or whatever, but then the anxiety is continuously there and it magnifies everything in the client’s life.”

Hackett’s practice, Oasis counselling in Gorey, Co Wexford, operated mostly online sessions throughout the pandemic, but resumed face-to-face services three weeks ago. She now runs what she describes as a “hybrid model”.

She says working from home, while welcomed by many, often induces more stress in workers than if they were in the office.

“The stress of trying to work from home, particularly if they don’t have a room that they can go into and close the door and focus on their work, maybe there’s family around and not everyone is understanding of the need to be able to focus on your work,” she explains.

“They’re pulled in a lot of directions, they’re trying to do their best, while meeting the needs of the family.”

She adds that the removal of casual conversation between colleagues, also heightens this stress.

“A lot of what affects clients as well is isolation and loneliness. They miss that peer contact with their colleagues. On Zoom meetings, you might have a little bit of chat five minutes before it starts, but the minute the meeting ends, it just ends, so you don’t have that bit of chat or connection.”

The counsellor, who is also the vice-chair of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP), said some practices are seeing “substantial” increases in demand for services.

She says she has not had a “huge increase” in clients, but attributes this to the fact she works mostly in the private sector, and many people are experiencing financial hardship.

“If you have an instance where two partners have lost their job, they’re under severe financial pressure. It may be then that the cost of counselling is just not viable for them,” she adds.

She says transitioning to online counselling posed challenges in the beginning, but overall, it has proved to be satisfactory.

“A lot of clients didn’t want to come online for various reasons. There were some difficulties with maybe not having a confidential space, maybe some with young families and there wasn’t a space in the house where they wouldn’t be interrupted,” she explains.

“One of the biggest positives of online counselling is that it’s making it more available to a lot more people.”

In its pre-budget submission, the IACP called for investment in improving accessibility to counselling and psychotherapy, a VAT exemption for counsellors and psychotherapists and the introduction of therapeutic counselling supports for second-level schools.

Hackett said that many school guidance counsellors are under pressure to meet demands, adding that teenagers especially will need additional help to deal with the emotional implications of Covid-19.

“They’re gone back to school now and there are strict protocols in place. They’re missing out on being able to go out and plan a night out, as young people should be able to do. Their lives are impacted. Some are dealing with it well and some aren’t.”

Hackett believes the true demand for mental health services as a result of the pandemic will only be seen in the coming months.

“The long-term impact of what is happening to us is going to come to the fore for more and more people. The interesting thing about all of this is that we’re all in this storm, but we may be in different boats.”

She says that while some clients have a lot of resilience and have managed to cope quite well, others may really need help.

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