Mental health patients leaving hospital in first lockdown felt lonely and isolated, Manchester study finds

A new study by researchers in the city has found concerning ways that Covid-19 affected people with mental health conditions and the services helping them.

Mental health patients who were discharged from or admitted to acute mental health services during the first Covid-19 lockdown last year experienced loneliness and social isolation, according to a new study created in Manchester.

A team of researchers from the University of Manchester looked at how the arrival of the global pandemic and the measures to contain the novel coronavirus affected vulnerable people.

The study, which has been published in a journal, has found several concerning elements in how Covid-19 affected care.

However, the researchers also stressed that adapting to the new situation brought a few positive outcomes as well.

How was the study done and what did it find?

The team interviewed 34 patients, carers and clinical staff.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (NIHR GMPSTRC).

The University of Manchester

This is a partnership between Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and the university.

As well as the increased feelings of “loneliness and isolation”, the team found some people with mental illnesses were “working harder” in the early stages of the pandemic to prevent being admitted as they were worried about how Covid-19 was affecting the NHS.

And there was a lack of community support options for those who had been discharged as most had been forced to stop working by the arrival of the novel coronavirus.

The study has been published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open and online .

What does the team say?

The researchers say they are concerned about some of the findings, especially as there were existing worries about mental health care and provision before Covid-19 showed up.

“Even before the pandemic, there were lots of safety concerns associated with recent discharge from inpatient mental health services, for example suicide and self-harm,“ said lead author Dr Natasha Tyler, researcher at The University of Manchester and GM PSTRC.

“Our patients and carers felt that because of the national need to free up hospital beds, the quality of discharge and admission planning was compromised at times.

“That meant discharging patients from hospitals who were not ready to cope in the community or not admitting patients who needed in-patient care.

“The closure of most community support services meant patients had minimal opportunities for accessing care via alternative routes. This worsened their feelings of helplessness and loneliness.”

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Co-author Andrew Grundy, who has also used mental health services himself, said: “Having personally lived through transitions from inpatient to community services myself, I know how worrying and how stressful this time can be, and Covid-19 has only added to these pressures.

“Our study sheds further light on service users’ own ‘safety concerns’ around rapid discharge, difficulties in accessing community services post-discharge, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation post-discharge, which they have experienced as a direct result of the first national lockdown.”

Are all the study findings negative?

Co-author Dr Maria Panagioti said there were some actually positive outcomes during the first lockdown, with medical professionals being forced into changing the way they worked by the pandemic and finding this actually helped solve some problems with the system.

Dr Panagioti said: “Despite some distressing findings, there were rapid changes in acute care, some of which resolved long-standing problems about patient safety.

“Virtual meetings, for example, enabled interdisciplinary teams and agencies to jointly discuss patient discharge which was often considered unrealistic prior to the pandemic.

“They also improved patients’ attendance by eliminating barriers such as travelling complications and social phobias.”