This project examines the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare services for mentally ill populations, from the perspective of a service provider.
While the impact of COVID-19 on mentally ill populations has been in focus recently, few studies examine the impact on service adaptations to ensure continuity of care. In India, where community-based mental healthcare is led by non-government organisations (NGOs), this is a crucial time to gather evidence on how these organisations have adapted care services. This research study explores how mental health issues in the aftermath of the COVID-19 have been an area of increasing concern for public health, second only to the containment of the pandemic itself.
This exploratory study was done in collaboration with the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) India, using in-depth interviews and focused group discussions to understand the impact of the pandemic on services provided by SCARF. Participants were selected using purposive sampling from across the different types of services mapped initially from outpatient and in-patient clinical services, residential services, community outreach, psycho-social rehabilitation including family interventions, research & training.
The study establishes a need to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the spectrum of mental health care services. Particularly, from a service provider perspective, the study helps build a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by health personnel in providing continuity of care and building greater resilience in systems responding to the care of mentally ill and vulnerable populations.
Findings from the study document three crucial elements of service provision (i) the relationships with the communities, (ii) responsiveness to the patient needs and (iii) resilience to ensure the continuity of services. The study shows that established relationships with the community were This required working across hierarchies, adapting newer communication strategies and overcoming personal concerns. Planning for future disruptions should include patient and caregiver education regarding how to prepare for care-giving during times of disaster, and inclusion of care for the mentally ill in disaster planning by the government/city authorities.
The study indicates that there are few studies that focus on the service adaptations to ensure access to care for the mentally ill during the pandemic. Establishing relationship with the communities, responding to the end-to-end needs of the mentally ill, and integrating resilience in learning while continually adapting to meet ground challenges, may prove to enable formulation of effective primary mental healthcare responses during future disruptions.