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Stress, depression, anxiety and addiction are on the rise in the South.
Referrals to WellSouth’s brief intervention mental health service almost doubled in the period after Covid-19 lockdown.
Almost 800 more people sought advice over health concerns between May and July this year than at the corresponding time last year, the Southern District Health Board was told yesterday.
The Central Lakes area had an 87% increase in referrals, and Invercargill experienced a 45% increase.
WellSouth chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs said it was positive that people felt able to approach medical services to discuss possible mental health issues.
The brief intervention service was not for urgent cases, and demand had meant some people had gone on a waiting list.
"No-one has had to wait if they have needed services now."
The rise in demand seemed to be driven by the pressures people experienced during the Covid-19 lockdown, Mr Swanson-Dobbs said.
Concerns have been raised about the paucity of mental health services in the Lakes district in the past, and WellSouth was putting extra staffing into that area, including several HIPs (health improvement practitioners) trained to give immediate mental health assistance.
"Demand in that region has more than doubled ... We are doing our best to make sure somebody is able to see them," Mr Swanson-Dobbs said.
WellSouth director of nursing Wendy Findlay said lockdown was a challenging time.
"Stress or worry, relationship issues, or grief are some areas where a HIP can help and they are available to help on the day with 30-minute appointments and follow-up where needed."
Wellsouth said its integrated primary mental health service was being set up, but it was already being told the numbers of referrals were falling.
"With our new HIPs and health coaches in place, we are making mental health services more readily available to a wide range of people," Ms Findlay said.
"It is really important for people to stay engaged with their general practice, as your GP team is often the health service that knows you best and can help you access the care you need."
Mental health and addiction organisations said there had been a big demand for youth counselling and at Student Health.
"Most specialist services are working at capacity and are managing demand with some services operating wait lists," SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said.
"Crisis services, emergency psychiatric services and the Southland Mental Health Emergency Team are experiencing similar levels of demand."
More referrals had led to a waiting list of patients for DHB mental health and addiction facilities who could more appropriately be managed in the community, Mr Fleming said.
"This situation is also exacerbated by the lack of budget allocation to build individual packages of care and support for patients to move from mental health inpatient settings to community-based settings."
The issue had been discussed by executives, and Mr Fleming expected it would be a major issue considered by the soon-to-begin Southern mental health and addiction system review.
- Wakatipu: 86% increase (12 people) in youth referrals, one waiting; 20% increase (19 people) in adult referrals; 118% increase in addiction referrals.
- Waitaki: 30% (14 people) increase in youth referrals, 11 waiting.Dunstan: 17% increase in youth referrals (eight people), 16 waiting.