Objectives. Mental health services utilization decreased dramatically during the COVID19 pandemic. For persons who are highly vulnerable and at risk of health and social care exclusion, restrictions negatively affected the accessibility to treatments and their mental
Methods. All psychiatric and psychological interviews carried out at National Institute for Health, Migration and Poverty (INMP) Italy from January 2018 to February 2022 were included in the study. To measure services use, an interrupted time-series analysis using March 2020 as the starting data of COVID-19 pandemic period was considered, and first visits vs follow-up session numbered.
Results. A significant decrease was observed in March 2020 due to the lockdown restrictive measures (p<0.001). Later on, the number of psychological interventions significantly increased (p<0.05), whereas the increment of the psychiatric interventions was not significant. By the end of February 2022 the number of visits returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, although recovery was slower than expected, especially for psychiatric visits.
Conclusions. After a dramatic drop during the lockdown, access to mental health outpatient clinics slowly returned to pre-pandemic levels in the next two years. Considering that mental health needs have increased during the pandemic, mental health services should improve their efforts to reduce barriers of access and to implement outreach referral.