Upward of 30 Kiwis have been treated for acute mental health problems while holed-up in managed isolation and quarantine facilities across the country.
New information received by the Herald shows that between MIQF's inception in March 2020 and March 2021, at least 30 returnees have been referred to crisis and specialist mental health support teams - sometimes resulting in the need for the patient to be hospitalised.
The Northern Region Health Coordination Centre - which covers the Counties Manukau, Waitematā and Auckland District Health Boards - made 24 referrals to its crisis support teams.
The Waikato District Health Board dealt with two returnees who were showing mental health concerns while in MIQFs which required hospitalisation, while Capital and Coast DHB reported one such case.
Canterbury District Health Board reported three cases from MIQ facilities who were referred to Specialist Mental Health Services for inpatient care at the Hillmorton Hospital.
According to the Ministry of Health, the main reasons for mental health referrals are depression, panic attacks and claustrophobia as well as addiction and withdrawal support.
One such returnee, Kian Malone, was caught up in an incident in early 2021 when he shared a bus to an off-site exercise yard with a Covid-positive case.
That resulted in him having to stay in the MIQF for an extra 14 days, taking his stay in isolation to a traumatising 28 days in total.
"It was a terrible time," he said, "my life was taken out of my own hands, and it was a scary place to be."
Malone said that after a couple of days in complete isolation he began to feel of the mental strain of his predicament taking full effect,
"On the third day, I felt like I was losing my mind, climbing the walls, feeling like a rat in cage," he said, "It became quite tumultuous, there were kids screaming constantly and I could hear people losing their minds."
Malone said he spoke to the on-site medical team on numerous occasions asking for help, but to no avail.
"I felt I needed more support, but it wasn't forth coming," he said.
Malone has since received an apology from the Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine, Brigadier Jim Bliss, for his ordeal in the MIQ but feels it is "too little, too late".
Measures taken by MIQFs to help ease the anxiety and trauma suffered by guests include free WiFi access, outside exercise areas and the opportunity to order goods, food and alcohol from nearby supermarkets.
Alcohol purchases are limited to six 330ml cans of beer (6-9 standard drinks); or one bottle of wine (7-8 standard drinks); or one four pack, up to 330ml each, of RTDs (7-8 standard drinks), per person, per day.
These are all above the ministry's own recommended guidelines of two standard drinks per day for women and three for men.
These limits were put into place to ensure guests were able to respond to staff and emergency situations and to follow PPE and physical-distancing rules stating that alcohol may affect people's ability to keep themselves and others safe.
It was also recommended that MIQFs should not be smoke-free environments, stating,
"This may cause stress amongst returnees that smoke, particularly those who smoke heavily and/or are severely addicted to smoking. This may have an adverse effect on the mental health and wellbeing of these returnees and could potentially increase incidences of non-compliance with MIQF rules."
Anyone who is currently in a MIQF and is affected by issues raised in this article are advised to speak to their facility's manager and the on-site health teams.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email email@example.com or online chat.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.