People with a mental illness and their families face difficult challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eden Social Welfare Foundation said on Wednesday, urging the government not to suspend necessary support services.
Local COVID-19 outbreaks in May and a nationwide level 3 COVID-19 alert in effect from the middle of that month led to visiting restrictions at healthcare and long-term care facilities, as well as the suspension of community services and activities.
The restrictions have caused many people with mental illness to be separated from their families or caregivers, leading to worsened conditions and causing some family members to feel helpless and isolated as support services were suspended, the foundation said.
A hotline volunteer at the foundation said that a father had called asking for help, saying that his son’s disorder worsened during the level 3 alert, and that his son was hiding in the corner of his room with a knife.
The man took his son to see a doctor, but the son was only given an injection, as doctors told the father they were worried that there were not enough hospital beds to hold the son for treatment, the volunteer said, adding that the father felt helpless, as the local health department’s community counseling service and other hotlines were also suspended.
Eden Fountain House director Liao Fu-yuan (廖福源) said that based on the calls the foundation received from families of people with mental illness, they faced five common challenges.
The challenges are reduced healthcare capacity, limiting emergency medical care and placement; restrictions on visiting and communicating with patients, causing them to lose connection with the outside world; suspension of community daycare and support services, limiting external stimulation; an overwhelmed healthcare system, making regular follow-up visits and refill prescriptions difficult; and the suspension of social work services, leaving families feeling neglected and isolated, he said.
Liao said that some electronic devices have always been prohibited for patients in psychiatric wards, but as hospitals have imposed tightened visiting restrictions amid the pandemic, many people in such facilities lost nearly all contact with their families, caregivers and social workers, which could cause their conditions to worsen.
The foundation said as the pandemic can worsen at any time, the government should understand the needs of people with mental illness and their families, and prepare to provide necessary support services should another local outbreak occur.
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