Psychiatric urgencies dropped by half during the state of emergency enacted because of COVID-19, which confirms concerns about the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of the Portuguese.
The data are now advanced by researchers from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP) and from CINTESIS – Center for Health Technology and Services Research, in a study published in the scientific journal Psychiatric Quarterly.
The team analyzed visits to the Metropolitan Urgent Care of Psychiatry in Porto, which covers about three million inhabitants, during the period of the state of emergency, describing its impact on the numbers and characteristics of the episodes of urgency.
In total, 780 episodes were recorded from 19 March to 2 May 2020. In the same period of the previous year, 1633 episodes were recorded. There was a decrease of 52% in the total of episodes. This reduction in psychiatric emergencies is more pronounced among younger people and women, although the latter account for the majority of episodes.
Patients with Mood Disorders, such as depression, for example, have the most significant fall, with a reduction in emergency episodes of around 68%. In patients diagnosed with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, the decrease was only 9%, which the authors justify with the greater severity of clinical conditions and the greater need for medical care.
Among the reasons pointed out for this decrease is the concern of not overloading health services, at a time when the focus was to stop the pandemic, as well as the limitations imposed by confinement and the fear of being infected by the new coronavirus (SARS- CoV-2).
“The COVID-19 had an important impact on the number and the characteristics of the visits to the psychiatric ER. Competent authorities should look at Mental Health as a real priority and reinforce public investment in hospitals and community and continuing care. It is necessary to rethink our model of emergency and access to mental health care,” says Manuel Gonçalves-Pinho, a researcher at FMUP and CINTESIS, physician and first author of the study.
According to the co-first author, Pedro Mota, “the decreases in visits to the emergency room occurred mainly among patients with clinical situations considered non-urgent. However, the harmful impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the Portuguese is already well known, not only as a direct consequence of the disease but also as a result of the social and economic reformulations that we have been facing.”
Researchers identify mainly the elderly, patients with intellectual disabilities, and unemployed people as the most vulnerable groups and warn that the interruption of certain treatments as a result of the closure of some services may cause greater destabilization in certain groups of patients.
As part of the project 1st.IndiQare, this work had the participation of Manuel Gonçalves-Pinho, Pedro Mota, João Pedro Ribeiro and Silvério Macedo (Hospital Center of Tâmega e Sousa) and Alberto Freitas (FMUP and CINTESIS). 1st.IndiQare is funded by FEDER – European Regional Development Fund, through COMPETE 2020and the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).