COVID-19 - the "perfect storm"

COVID-19 - the "perfect storm"

Australia is facing a Mental Health tsunami.

For the time being, it may be eclipsed by the physical health and economic crises we are facing. But be assured, a rapidly rising tide of mental health concerns is developing. Indeed, we are already seeing it, with a massive increase of people using services such as Beyond Blue.

In many ways it is a “perfect storm” of factors that can lead people to develop mental illness. The reality of unemployment for 1 million people in a time frame of less than two weeks bodes very badly. Employment offers job satisfaction and, in many cases, a sense of purpose, as well as an income. Without employment, people can lose their sense of purpose. They can even lose an important source of self-respect. The result may be depression, anxiety, anger or fear.

The impact of loneliness and social isolation is another part of this storm. Especially for the elderly, who may be cut off physically from family and friends, loneliness can exacerbate an existing predisposition for depression.

Having to isolate yourself with people you are close to can also flare up in unpleasant ways. Stress may be put on the family unit, or on the people living together. In houses where domestic abuse or violence exists, this abuse or violence may be magnified by the conditions of lockdown.

For children, this may be an especially frightening time. It may be hard for young minds to grasp the reality of what COVID-19 is. Children may become upset and frightened, clinging to their parents or asking about possible deaths of family and loved ones.

Aboriginal communities are amongst the most vulnerable to mental health issues in Australia. Social breakdown, substance abuse, unemployment and domestic violence levels are all higher than the national average. This occurs for metropolitan as well as rural and remote Aboriginal communities. It would appear that the extra stress of COVID-19, including wholesale lockdown of remote Aboriginal communities, would interfere heavily with Aboriginal communities and place great stress upon them.

Homeless people, who may already have mental health conditions, must face the difficulties not only of not having a home, but also being near other people who might have the illness, and a physical impossibility of going into lockdown.

And then there is the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. No-one knows where the disease will strike, whether they are a carrier, whether to fear and shun other members of the public. Not knowing when the “end date” of the virus may occur can also be highly stressful.

All these factors are playing out at once. And they are being intensified by almost blanket media coverage of the crisis, that could make anyone stressed.

The result? A quickly rising tide of mental distress and mental health issues.

So far, our mental health organisations (including One Door) have stepped up to the challenge. This includes the distribution of information about maintaining mental balance, continuing to provide excellent mental health support over telephone and social media and maintaining services where possible for people with severe and complex mental illness. The National Mental Health Commission has also led with the #InThisTogether campaign - a national conversation sharing practical tips online to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians during COVID-19.

And there are the actions we take every day in relation to our family, friends and loved ones – in these unprecedented times, we must look after each other.

Dr. Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health  

To receive new blogs from Dr. Richard Schweizer subscribe to our eNews.    

Dr Richard Schweizer

Dr Richard Schweizer
Image credit

k-mitch-hodge-VVqDTBCK5pY-unsplash (1)Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash