A leading psychologist is warning that a major surge in anxiety and depression in Ireland over the Covid-19 pandemic will occur only after the lockdown restrictions begin to be eased.
Stephen Watkins, of My Mind, said mental health experts were most concerned about what would happen when travel controls were lifted.
This would be when people worried about the virus suddenly find themselves having to travel, work, manage public life, and cope with the economic fall-out from Covid-19.
Experts fear Ireland could face a mental health crisis far greater than that experienced after the 2008/2009 recession, when incidents of self-harm soared.
The National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) found that while the number of people presenting at hospital for self-harm fell each year between 2004 and 2007, the onset of the recession sent the number dealing with self-harm surging by between 3pc and 7pc each year until 2011.
By 2018, Ireland's rate of self-harm was still 12pc higher than in 2007, the year before the recession hit.
Since the pandemic was declared in March, Irish counselling services have experienced a 22pc increase in requests for online appointments - but Mr Watkins acknowledged that the greatest surge in mental health issues would arise only once the Government began to lift the lockdown restrictions.
Some people have been so terrified by the virus they spent hundreds of euro creating air-pressure 'bubbles' in their homes to protect themselves from Covid-19.
"I know people that have created airlocks in their living rooms so they can sterilise everything before they go in and out," said Mr Watkins.
The system involves creating an airlock in the home with a negative pressure system, whereby a room can be protected from lower air pressure outside, so the virus cannot drift in.
Others have become fearful of leaving their homes and using normal services such as public transport, food outlets, shops or even churches and schools.
For many, anxiety over the virus is now slowly being replaced by fear of what the economic future holds.
"I think that as the restrictions continue there is going to be a steady increase in calls as people find it more and more difficult to manage," Mr Watkins said.
"But I think when the restrictions are lifted, it will go down for a week as people celebrate.
"But after that I expect there to be a fairly big increase in calls for help."
He pointed out Ireland experienced a dramatic increase in people seeking help for mental health problems after the 2008/2009 financial and property crash - but the weeks and months ahead could witness an even greater mental health crisis.
"If the predicted recession is a bad as people fear, then yes, I do [fear a major crisis].
"That is part of the problem people are dealing with now - they are waiting for life to get back to normal but they also have an expectation that it may never go back to normal.
"They are waiting and hoping for a normal that they are slowly beginning to realise will not be there."
He said people were worried that once the restrictions were lifted, they were going to deal with a whole new set of problems posed by the post-virus recession.
"I think the most vulnerable members of our society are the ones that are going to feel most marginalised by the recession.
"They are going to find it very hard to find work, they are going to find it very hard to develop a healthy routine and they are going to find it very hard to cope."
Mental health experts have noted fears ranging from job losses to pay cuts and how to safely deal with crowded public transport hubs, entertainment centres and busy streets.
"For the first week or so (of the lockdown), it was actually positive for a lot of my clients with anxiety because they would see themselves as introverts and there was no pressure on them to go out and socialise," Mr Watkins said.
"But after the first week it started to become very difficult for almost all of them. Human beings are social animals and we all need to socialise for our positive mental health."
He said the longer the restrictions lasted, the greater the long-term impact would be for those battling anxiety and depression.
"The longer the restrictions go on, it is going to have a fairly devastating impact -depending on the client and depending on their issues.
"Those who have anxiety, even the fear of catching Covid-19 is very damaging.
"For people who find it difficult to interact with other people, they are going to find themselves getting used to the isolation to the point that rejoining society and dealing with people once again is going to be very challenging."
Mental health professionals have worked miracles to keep counselling and support services in place across Ireland for the needy throughout the pandemic.
"Since the restrictions were imposed, we switched over to only online appointments, just like a lot of other healthcare professionals.
"Since that switch, we have seen a 22pc increase in appointments.
"My Mind hosts private servers so we are one of the only counselling services in the country that accommodates online services without having to use another programme for the interaction."