Mental health issues the ‘second wave’ of pandemic

Matt Woodley

16/04/2020 4:07:33 PM

A new report suggests many Australians are struggling with isolation and stress due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Woman at home by herself staring out the window.
Half of all survey respondents reported feeling isolated as a result of the lockdown.

The online survey, commissioned by YouGov, found a large increase in the number of Australians drinking alone, with one in two feeling isolated as a result of the lockdown, while 57% reported feeling stressed.
Mental health advocate and former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry told the Herald Sun the mental health consequences of the lockdown will be like a ‘second wave of the epidemic’, with some effects likely to linger beyond the relaxation of social distancing measures.
‘A significant minority will not [bounce back], and we already know that our mental health system was seriously under-resourced and overwhelmed even prior to this,’ Professor McGorry said.
‘This is the second wave of the epidemic in a sense, and it’s going to have a much deeper and longer trough to it.’
According to the report, which took place over the Easter long-weekend and quizzed 2085 people across Australia, one in four relationships is under strain as a result of the increased anxiety, with women reporting stress at a higher rate (63%) than men (51%).
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon responded to the report by reminding Australians that GPs are available and willing to help.
‘Professor McGorry’s concerns are certainly well-founded and I completely agree that this pandemic will weigh on many people’s mental health for some time,’ he said.
‘People are isolated, they don’t have the same connection to their community, their family or their usual routines and, of course, some are losing jobs and homes. The fact of one third of people are sleeping less is a significant concern.
‘So please, if you have concerns about your mental health, book an appointment with your GP. They may schedule a mental health plan to help get you through what you are experiencing.’
Many Australians have been putting off seeing their GPs due to concerns over the coronavirus, but Dr Nespolon said fighting the stigma around mental health is vital and that a face-to-face consultation is not necessary.
‘There is no shame in reaching out. Other people are experiencing something similar to you – it’s really important to understand that,’ he said.
‘Remember, you don’t have to visit the clinic in person if you are worried about contracting COVID-19. We have expanded telehealth and telephone consultations available for everyone, so please take advantage of them.’
Dr Nespolon told newsGP his advice is equally applicable for GPs, many of whom are dealing with the additional stress of longer hours, inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and the added risk of infecting loved ones.
‘We are on the frontlines and many of us are under increased pressure due to having to respond to this crisis directly every single day,’ he said.
‘We are not immune and it has never been more important to exercise self-care to ensure you are doing everything possible to look after your own health and that of your patients.’
Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are reportedly the most stressed of any generation, with 60% of respondents feeling under pressure, while Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2009) were the most likely to report that their relationships were under strain (35%).
Conversely, 19% of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and only 9% of those born prior to 1946 said their relationships had been strained.
Professor McGorry said that positive relationships are a protective factor against mental health issues, meaning under strain relationships could contribute to further problems.
‘It’s one of the great needs that we have, positive connections and positive relationships,’ he said. ‘If they start fraying that’s another risk factor for mental ill health.’
Being isolated from family and friends was the chief concern among respondents, while 60% are worried about paying their bills and just under half are concerned about losing their job. A similar percentage are anxious about feeding their family, while more than one third are worried about losing their home.
Contributing to the stress is the added burden of home schooling and needing to take care of children in the home for longer periods.
Professor McGorry said the Federal Government will need to increase mental health capacity as a result of the coronavirus, in the same way it had boosted the number of ventilators and intensive care units.
‘The line from the Government has been to try and keep morale up, and try to focus on what we can do to strengthen our mental health during what is hopefully a relatively temporary crisis,’ he said.
‘I really support that, but behind the scenes you’ve got to do something very serious because there is going to be a very big surge, putting pressure on a system that is already massively struggling.’
The survey suggests mental health is not the only area that has been affected, with many respondents indicating they were exercising less (35%) and not getting as much sleep (29%).
However, the lockdown has also had the opposite effect for others.
Twenty-four per cent of YouGov survey respondents said they are eating more healthily than before the lockdown period, while 25% are exercising more, and 26% reported getting more sleep than they were previously.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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Dr Peter James Strickland   17/04/2020 11:25:26 AM

Patrick McGorry is stating the 'bleeding' obvious about anxiety and depression. However, the concern needs to much wider with respect to those who need essential surgery, and now being denied. How many knee or hip replacements have been put on hold etc? A letter to the West Australian was from a guy with prostate cancer, and his operation has been put on hold. A local orthopaedist hasn't done any operations for 2 weeks! It is now time to get back to more medical and operative normality within the hospitals. We have had 4 cases of Covid 19 in SW Western Australia , and 3 of those came off cruise ships and all are isolated. Meanwhile with 99-99% plus of the population of Busselton being negative we have extraordinary neurotic behaviour occurring in shopping centres etc without any real threat, i.e. with the regional lockdowns in WA. Time to review what we are doing to people's mental health, and put in pragmatic easing of these burdens. Children back to normal school thank-you!