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Mental health team referrals tripled during pandemic

THE number of patient referrals to the crisis mental health team covering Tyrone has tripled within a year.

The increase of patients comes during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, when medical professionals have warned that stress and anxiety is high among people.

The number of patients referred to the Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team covering Fermanagh and Tyrone has tripled from March to August 2020 in comparison to the number of patients during the same months in 2019.

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The home treatment teams support service users in their own homes avoiding admission to, or after discharge from hospital.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the team continued with face-to-face crisis assessments as the number of patients requiring treatment and appointments soared to a new high.

The Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team is the gateway into crisis services and interacts with a number of different mental health teams to ensure the patient receives adequate follow up within the community following the crisis stage.

Laura McLaughlin, Mental Health Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team Leader covering Tyrone and Fermanagh has been managing the team of keyworkers on the frontline of mental health services during the pandemic.

Speaking about the increased number of referrals to the Crisis Team, Ms McLaughlin said, “The provision of Crisis Mental Health Services did not change much during the pandemic.

“The Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team continued with face-to-face crisis assessments and the number of referrals to the service tripled from March-August 2020 in comparison to March-August 2019.

“The provision of home treatment also continued however as a team we became more creative utilising PPE, screens and social distancing.

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“Management meetings took place over Pexip or videolink which reduced the risk of covid-19 and reduced travel but still allowed for effective communication to continue.

During the pandemic, other teams and services within the Mental Health Directorate stopped face-to-face contact and instead utilised telephone contact and virtual clinics/appointments.

Speaking about her role, Ms McLaughlin continued, “The best part of the job is receiving positive feedback from service users who express thanks to the team for allowing them to experience Crisis Mental Health Services whilst staying in their own home.

“Ordinarily in the absence of the Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team, these patients would have required inpatient admission to a mental health unit.

“The most challenging aspect of the role is the potential for and the occurrence of suicide.

“This is always an extremely difficult experience for all involved, as a leader it is vital to manage the practical aspects of this process whilst balancing this with the wellbeing of staff and family and/or carers,” said Ms McLaughlin.

The nurse believes the Covid-19 situation is ‘ever-changing’ and has urged people to look after their mental health at this difficult time.

Ms McLaughlin said, “As a leader I have had to find possible solutions and have been forced to consider all available resources, particularly my staff team, utilising their collective experience and knowledge whilst adapting and reviewing resolutions as the situation unfolds.

“I am proud to be a nurse working in front line Mental Health Services, an area that is sometimes overlooked, maintaining services throughout Covid-19 in order to provide for the needs of service users.

“My advice is listen to the official advice given, take all necessary precautions and be mindful of your own mental health,” concluded Ms McLaughlin.

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Ulster Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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