Decrease in mental health admissions during coronavirus pandemic

Involuntary admissions under Mental Health Act have decreased by 15% during the COVID-19 pandemic

There has been a 15% decrease in involuntary admissions under the Mental Health Act (MHA) in the first 50 days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the Commissioner for Mental Health has revealed.

Commissioner Dr John M. Cachia said that a total of 144 involuntary care orders were processed, involving 102 different patients of which three were minors. During the same period various initiatives and online services were made available to support people in mental health situations including loneliness and anxiety.

“We continue to advocate for the mental health and well-being of Maltese society and to promote and protect the rights of persons with mental disorders despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cachia said.

One of the main challenges for the Commissioner was the assertion of independent scrutiny and oversight of the involuntary care process in defence of patient rights in all instances and despite restrictions imposed by the public health emergency. Guidance to practitioners focused particularly on the safe follow-up and certification of patients and the submission of the supporting documentation required to monitor compliance with the MHA.

“In fulfilling the advocacy role at this time of increased mental health burden, the Commissioner was actively involved in addressing the media with relevant messages. The Commissioner welcomed efforts to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of the population through various initiatives and the strengthening of existing services where people can call for support and advice.” 

Cachia said he was was encouraged to see various entities had joined forces to better support the island, an important and positive sign which showed that Malta was strengthening its organisations for the good of its people. “These helplines offer advice and support to those who feel overwhelmed by the stress and anxiety generated by the suffering and uncertainty of the pandemic.”

The Commissioner said that it was important to remind that the deterioration in mental health and wellbeing could happen to anyone in society and must be brought to the attention of professionals. 

“It is important to put everyone’s mind at rest that measures are in place for the safe treatment of mental disorders without fear of being infected by the COVID-19 virus. Thus, all who feel the need should not postpone seeking treatment. Undue delay in seeking help can have a serious negative impact on personal health and wellbeing,” the commissioner said.