In an attempt to measure the severity of the pandemic’s impact on mental health, The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre created a systems dynamics model which generated possible outcomes of the pandemic.
The results estimated that suicidal deaths could increase by up to 53 percent, self-harm hospitalisations seeing a possible increase of 46.9 percent and mental health related Emergency Department presentations possibly reaching an increase of up to 34.5 percent.
According to Dr Miriam Mosing, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, many people will feel the mental health impacts, but particularly those already living with mental illness.
“We do know that of course there is a huge burden of this lockdown in the general population, and I think this particularly effects people who are at high risk already, people who have a pre-existing condition, even if they managed to deal with it,” she told upstart.
The Australian Government has clearly anticipated the need. In August, they announced the additional $12 million they funded to ensure people in Victoria will have access to 24/7 mental health support during the pandemic.
This builds on earlier commitments which saw over $500 million funded to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians earlier in the pandemic. The extra funding will be put towards preventative mental health services, the implementation of the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan and research to improve mental health care and reduce suicide rates. The government has also provided an additional ten Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions for those affected by the further restrictions.
Even with additional government funding, Dr Mosing believes we may not have considered all the factors that might impact mental health.
“My hunch is that we haven’t thought through the impact of the lockdown so well, so we are really fearing the impact of the virus,” she said.
“I think we just don’t know how long the impact will be for, but I do think there will definitely be people who will struggle with that for a very long time and who will receive those effects long into the future.”
For some Victorians, lockdown prevents them from doing the things that help fight off symptoms, causing their current mental health to worsen. Dr Mosing said that this is particularly concerning for those suffering with anxiety and phobias who rely on exposure to treat their conditions.
“Facing their fears is part of the treatment and really important, so I think if they are not able to do that anymore, and lockdown is inside, then that could have alternate effects post lockdown.”
Dr Mosing and other psychologists suggest that the key for coping during these tough times is reaching out to loved ones and keeping busy.
“I think at the moment a lot of people really, really struggle, so I think that it’s important to realise to not feel ashamed about struggling and that it’s good to speak up about it,” she said.
“Try to schedule your day for yourself, and really think about what is important [and] what could help.”
Brock Bastian, Professor in Psychology at the University of Melbourne agreed with Dr Mosing that it is difficult for people to cope with their illnesses due to the fact that social lives have been taken away as restrictions have been enforced.
“All of those things that people might do to try and manage their mental health have been shipped away under stage four, making it more difficult for people to manage some of those things,” Prof Bastian told upstart.
“Social life is such a massive part of mental health and wellbeing, as is variety.”
Prof Bastian and Dr Mosing also suggested taking advantage of the one-hour-a-day exercising period, as it may provide some positive benefits.
“I think using the hour a day of exercise well, making sure we’re actually using it,” Prof Bastian said.
“I think pushing ourselves towards slightly more intense exercise is important, that releases endorphins and helps you feel good.”
“Really use that hour you’re allowed outside to be outside in the sunshine when it’s light, and maybe find some other things which can give you some alleviation of your symptoms,” Dr Mosing said.
Prof Bastian also recommends talking to others to see how they are coping.
“People value being contacted and just more actively speak out,”he said.
If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact the following services.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or https://www.lifeline.org.au
BeyondBlue: 1300 22 4636 or https://www.beyondblue.org.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or https://kidshelpline.com.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or https://headspace.org.au
Peter White is a second-year Bachelor of Media and Communication (Media Industries) student. You can follow him on Twitter @peterwhite0
Photo: Grayscale photo of woman right hand on glass by Kristina Tripkovic available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.