COVID-19’s hidden mental health toll
PARAMEDIC call-outs to mental health cases in the Far North have jumped by a staggering 28 per cent this year as the horror fallout of COVID lockdown is felt.
Police, and even firefighters, are also reporting a disturbing spike with about 12 calls a day coming in to local police, including serious self-harm cases.
The shock statistics have prompted local Queensland Ambulance Service boss Assistant Commissioner Michelle Baxter to call for the restart of a co-responder project, which sends a mental health nurse out on the road alongside police or paramedics to assist.
The program was launched in Cairns 10 years ago, winning awards and was mirrored in other parts of the state, but stopped last year, understood to be due to staffing issues.
Queensland Health has revealed the program might return and acknowledged the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service had also received a COVID-related jump in mental health admissions - up 21 per cent on the previous year in June.
CHHHS acting Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drugs program director Gino Richter said the figures were down between February and May, which aligned with the overall drop in people seeking treatment as people stayed in lockdown. "The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service is currently in the planning stage of re-establishing the successful mental health co-responder project with the Queensland Police Service and Queensland Ambulance Service," she said.
"We are currently seeing a spike in mental health admissions to the health service, some of which we believe can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is important for people to know that they are not alone: we are all going through COVID-19 together."
Assistant Commissioner Baxter said what paramedics were seeing out on the road was "really sad".
"We receive the highest number of calls per day for falls and mental health," she said.
"We work with (Queensland) Health closely in that space to make sure we're taking patients to the right place."
FNQ AMBULANCE CASES
Jan 1- June 30, 2020: 28,040
Jan 1- June 30, 2019: 28,149
Most common 2020 call-outs
■ Chest pain
■ Breathing problems
■ Abdominal pain
■ Falls - 8.5% decrease
■ Mental health - 28% increase
■ Traumatic injuries - 9% decrease
■ Assault - 3% increase
■ Traffic incidents - 12.5% decrease
Originally published as COVID-19's hidden mental health toll