COVID-19 and the impacts on mental health
28 May 2020 at 8:22 am
With the pandemic bringing significant mental health challenges, it is important we support each other and remember we are in this together, writes Community Sector Banking CEO Andrew Cairns.
We are all currently living in a new world dependent on technology, where we both crave connectedness and are individually managing how we work through this pandemic to come out on the other side with as little impact on our lives as possible.
It was not so long ago that we thought COVID-19 was something only affecting other parts of the world. Now, we are more than two months into social distancing with many Australians, organisations, and communities feeling the effects of the pandemic.
Along with impacts on employment, changes in lifestyle and our movements, the pandemic also brings mental health challenges.
History can show us the impact pandemics have on the population’s mental health. As reported in Hospital and Healthcare, the SARS epidemic was associated with an increase in reported cases of suicide in people over 65 and an increase in emotional distress of health care workers.
It’s evident that we will see a greater impact on mental health from COVID-19. This pandemic has resulted in a strict lockdown across the globe, with millions of Australians losing jobs and people across the country trying to find new means to combat the feeling of isolation.
This change is challenging; it’s different and it’s something we must get used to, but that doesn’t mean we have to face it alone.
The government has provided a variety of measures to support the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians in the form of a $74 million boost to mental health services. This boost to the sector includes funding for organisations and groups such as Headspace, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), and Beyond Blue, as well as expanding the Community Visitors Scheme and creating a dedicated mental health and wellbeing program for frontline health workers.
This is a great step in supporting the mental health of all Australians and the providers of mental health services. However, additional investment and support is likely to be required as the pandemic develops, and it’s important that mental health is monitored and emerging needs responded to.
A new research project from Vox Pop Labs in partnership with the ABC has found poor mental health has more than doubled in the last month. Furthermore, it found that the frequency of feelings of despair has more than tripled and those frequently feeling confusion has increased more than five times.
Research conducted by Monash University provides a snap-shot of Australians’ mental health during this time with participants registering elevated levels of anxiety and depression and about 30 per cent of people showing moderate to high levels. Beyond Blue has also witnessed a 40 per cent increase in contact made to the organisation for support compared to the same time last year.
While we are beginning to see an increase in mental health concerns, it’s important we understand that mental health can be impacted at any time during a pandemic, including after the pandemic is over, with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder emerging.
Given the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, it’s important people know that health services are still available to them during this time. It is concerning that recent news reports have highlighted a decrease in doctor visits during the COVID-19 pandemic and less contact with mental health professionals.
We must also continue to support each other and help manage the mental health concerns of our family, friends, colleagues and ourselves. We can provide this support in many ways. Organising regular virtual catch ups through digital platforms such as Zoom or Facetime to stay connected to friends and family, showing support and understanding when others may feel overwhelmed with stress and worry as a result of COVID-19, positively reframing the situation to help reduce anxiety and stress, and playing our part by listening to the government’s advice and adhering to social distancing rules.
Businesses also have a role to play in managing the mental health of their staff. Working from home brings new and added stress including the feeling of never being able to “switch off”. Management and leaders need to ensure they are touching base with their staff regularly to understand their needs beyond workload. They need to make sure staff understand how to operate in these new conditions, be flexible in their approach and expectations, and let them know someone is there to provide support during difficult times, such as an employee assistance program or human resources representative.
It’s understandable that people will be feeling higher levels of anxiety and concern with the unknowns that COVID-19 brings. While fear is a natural reaction to this situation, it’s important to continue to support those around us to combat the impact of mental health on individuals and our communities during this pandemic.
In dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 and the changes in my working environment, I have also felt my anxiety wax and wane during the pandemic period.
We are in this together and by supporting each other, social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.