Calls for better mental health response to COVID-19
8 July 2020 at 12:30 pm
New research shows the mental health impacts of the pandemic are far reaching
Australia’s mental health response to COVID-19 needs to consider broader social and economic factors and be better tailored to protect vulnerable groups most at risk during the pandemic, a new report says.
A white paper from Suicide Prevention Australia and Wesley Mission said a mental health specific approach to the crisis failed to consider the many people in distress who don’t experience mental illness but who were struggling because of their life circumstances.
It said mental health resources should be streamlined and targeted toward vulnerable groups such as young people, older people, Indigenous communities, the unemployed, and frontline workers.
Nieves Murray, the CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia, said the pandemic was a unique health crisis that was causing pain to countless people around the country.
“As a nation, we also need to recognise [that] the impact of COVID-19 extends to millions of others in our community, many of whom have lost their jobs, been isolated from their social networks and – perhaps for the first time – are struggling with their wellbeing,” Murray said.
“Our report shows that people are experiencing distress due to being out of work, being homeless, lonely or through a drug or alcohol problem. These life circumstances can leave people vulnerable to distress and suicidality.”
A recent survey from Wesley Mission found less than a third of people believed that mental health support from government and service providers has been good.
Wesley Mission CEO, the Rev Keith V Garner AM, said addressing the crisis required a sustained, collaborative effort to protect Australian lives – particularly for those people suffering after months of increased isolation.
He said now was time to change the conversation about suicide.
“Our 114 suicide prevention networks across Australia have reported a strong negative impact to people’s wellbeing from unemployment and increasing concerns for finances. Both are well-established risk factors for suicide and were identified by our networks located in cities, regional and remote areas alike,” Garner said.
“We have all been affected to some degree, but it is those who are most vulnerable in our country who are hardest hit and will experience the negative impacts of this crisis long after the majority of our society has recovered.”
Garner told Pro Bono News that demand for emergency relief services at Wesley has increased by 85 per cent during the pandemic.
He said the people who should be the highest priority are the people who are the least able to help themselves.
“When we talk about what we need to do in terms of the demand for services, and reducing distress in the community, it’s clear we must focus on the most vulnerable,” he said.
“For example for people whose main language is not English, pandemic communication is a real issue.
“We need to be very aware that communication is critical, especially if people don’t have access to technology.”
The report’s recommendations include increasing the base rate of JobSeeker and extending JobKeeper past September, building domestic and family violence workforce capacity to screen for mental health issues and suicide risk, and extending the moratorium on evictions.
The full white paper can be seen here.