To date, very few nationwide studies addressing the way in which mental health services are addressing the current pandemics have been published. The present paper reports data obtained from a survey relating to the Italian mental health system conducted during the first phase of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Two online questionnaires regarding Community Mental Health Centres (CMHC) and General Hospital Psychiatric Wards (GHPW), respectively, were sent to the Heads of all Italian Mental Health Departments (MHDs). Statistical analysis was carried out by means of Chi Square test with Yates correction or the Fisher Exact test, as needed.
Seventy-one (52.9%) of the 134 MHDs and 107 (32.6%) of the 318 GHPWs returned completed questionnaires. Less than 20% of CMHCs were closed and approx. 25% had introduced restricted access hours. A substantial change in the standard mode of operation in CMHCs was reported with only urgent psychiatric interventions, compulsory treatments and consultations for imprisoned people continuing unchanged. All other activities had been reduced to some extent. Remote contacts with users had been set up in about 75% of cases. Cases of COVID positivity were reported for both staff members (approx. 50% of CHMCs) and service users (52% of CHMCs). 20% of CMHCs reported cases of increased aggressiveness or violence among community patients, although only 8.6% relating to severe cases. Significant problems emerged with regard to the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff members. A reduced number of GHPWs (− 12%), beds (approx.-30%) and admissions were registered (87% of GHPWs). An increase in compulsory admissions and the rate of violence towards self or others among inpatients was reported by 8% of GHPWs. Patient swabs were carried out in 50% of GHPWs. 60% of GHPWs registered the admission to general COVID-19 Units of symptomatic COVID+ non-severe psychiatric patients whilst COVID+ severe psychiatric patients who were non-collaborative were admitted to specifically set up “COVID-19” GHPWs or to isolated areas of the wards purposely adapted for the scope.
The pandemic has led to a drastic reduction in levels of care, which may produce a severe impact on the mental health of the population in relation to the consequences of the expected economic crisis and of the second ongoing wave of the pandemic.