Lockdown Is Creating A Mental Health Crisis But There Are Ways We Can Help
Professor Ian Hickie: “People are exhausted, emotionally [and] physically by the process of having to go into such disconnection from their ordinary lives.”
Since the pandemic hit Australia, there’s been a huge spike in mental illness issues.
Job losses, social isolation, and places like universities and schools shutting their doors, have all contributed to the problem.
People are feeling distressed, anxious and hopeless and it’s showing with the increased pressure on mental health services.
Lockdown Fatigue Is Real
So, what are the ways Australia should be addressing it, and how can we look out for the people who are most at risk?
Beyond Blue said that calls from Victorians to its support services doubled in the first two weeks of July.
But the mental health effects will only worsen with new lockdowns.
IH: “Humans cope best together. Left to ruminate and feel anxious on our own, we’re hopeless. We’re social animals that deal with adversity together … It’s when we have to do it alone, we fall apart and then we’re really in danger.”
Professor Ian Hickie is the director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney and he refers to this feeling of exhaustion as ‘lockdown fatigue’.
The Impacts Of Extended Lockdown
Researchers are saying that the impact of the second lockdown is going to be really distinct from the first.
That’s partly because it’s showing us that COVID-19 is going to be a problem that will stick around for a long time, and our hopes for a quick solution are fading away.
But it’s also because of the ongoing economic impact, which is one of the biggest contributing factors to mental health decline over this period.
IH: “As part of this Melbourne lockdown, we’ve now got 250,000 jobs being suspended. People who thought they were going back to work [to experience] the real social connection of being part of something [are] instead, just stuck at home again … It’s exhausting. Chronic stress tires you out … Eventually it exhausts you.”
Hickie told me that the sense of helplessness and financial stress that’s accumulating is likely going to be seen in an increase in the suicide rate.
What Can We Do To Help The State Of Australia’s Mental Health Through This?
Well, there are ways that we, as individual people, can help the problem – even if they’re just small ways.
For people who know they’re at risk of mental health issues, Hickie said that – besides reaching out for professional help when they’re feeling really overwhelmed – it’s incredibly important to maintain a routine and stay connected with family and friends.
And that responsibility to maintain connection comes down to all of us, regardless of what we’re experiencing.
IH: “Whether you do that in person or whether you do it via the internet … I might be in tears today; you might be in tears tomorrow. It’s about sharing that connection, sharing that anxiety. The social aspect of ‘in it together’, from a mental health point of view, is still the most important.”
But Hickie also said that part of our response to this downturn in mental health has to come from government, and JobKeeper needs to be expanded to include vulnerable workers like casuals and women.
Jobs aren’t just important for money. They also give people sense of identity and connection to community, and losing that will seriously impact mental wellbeing over this period.
Hickie also said that the public health messaging coming from governments really needs to stress us ‘all being in this together’, rather than just giving advice to individuals who may be struggling. Any messaging that makes us feel more alone is only going to exacerbate the problem.
The second lockdown in Victoria is going to have a huge impact on mental health and the consequences could be horrendous.
But next to government response, there are ways for people in the community to try and mitigate those issues and be proactive about looking out for others. Because ultimately, everyone will be affected by the uncertainty and fear that comes with the pandemic.