Now that the Covid -19 pandemic has settled, and while life might ‘appear’ to be returning to some sort of normality, it is far from ‘normal’ for hundreds of thousands of people across Australia – including those who remain homeless, jobless, victims of the shadow pandemic domestic violence, and those suffering severely from the mental health effects of life interrupted over the past two years.
New statistics show that one in eight Australians is now suffering a mental health disorder, directly related to the effect of lockdowns.
Mental health issues increased by 25%
Governments were warned that harsh restrictions would take their toll, and now there is a very hefty price for the whole of the community to pay.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows a 25 per cent jump in the number of people seeking mental health services last year compared with the same time pre-pandemic.
World Health Organisation information released earlier this year had the same finding – that the pandemic brought a 25 per cent increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression,
Increases in the number of people getting help means that the issue is not lurking in the shadows and the stigma that has traditionally surrounded some mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety is lessening.
But it has also increased the strain on Australia’s mental health services – patients have long wait times and in some cases, restricted access to the right kind of help.
The toll on mental health
Perhaps, as expected, research shows the effect of lockdowns was worse in 2021 than it was 2020 – the first year of the pandemic. It’s something we can all relate to.
2020 was something of a novelty – it was “unprecedented” – and while there was a certain level of fear around the severity of the virus, most Australians simply accepted a social duty to stay at home and isolate while the Government could prepare an appropriate pandemic response.
However in the second year of the pandemic, the rules became much more severe and draconian and encroached on basic freedoms and other human rights.
Extension of lockdowns, ‘no jab, no job’
Lockdowns were extended. In New South Wales travel restrictions and curfews were put in place, state border closures and mandatory vaccination regulations, such as ‘no jab, no job’ divided the nation. Certainly here in New South Wales, the health advice seemed scant amongst decisions made by the NSW Police Chief, who was put in charge of pandemic management.
On top of this, Covid-19 fatigue set in after media hype and saturation coverage of daily case numbers and other impending Covid-19 related ‘doom’ which only exacerbated the sense of hopelessness that began to set in, even amongst the most resilient Australians.
It also became obvious in the second year that the Government response to the pandemic had been fraught with failings, most specifically its failure to shore up the health system to cope with Covid-19, which seemed to provide it with a golden opportunity to continue to exercise sweeping controls via state of emergency powers and public health policy.
Impact on mental health ignored
Despite regular warnings from mental health professionals about the potential effects of all the authoritarian government policies and pandemic response procedures introduced during the past two years, not just in Australia, but around the world, Governments continued to turn a blind eye to the potential severity of the effect these would have on the people they have a duty of care to.
And while it might be fair to say that there was no ‘handbook’ for dealing with the sudden escalation of Covid-19 and governments made the best decisions they could with the information they had at the time, ultimately, now they must now also take responsibility for the fallout of those decisions.
And so it continues…
Covid-19 continues to remain rampant – in fact this week Australian infection numbers hit an all-time high, amongst the highest in the world, according to the international databases.
It’s long been proven that job insecurity, financial pressures, domestic violence and homelessness, each of which were amplified during the pandemic, aggravated by lockdowns, are all significant contributing factors to mental health issues.
So the response required now is much bigger and broader than ensuring that affected Australians have affordable access to mental health services that they need.
A multi-faceted response is required here – and it will require political will and commitment lasting longer than the next election cycle.
If vulnerable and at risk people are not given a helping hand to make their lives better, then these people will only end up marginalised, or continue to be marginalised, unable to contribute to the whole of society to the best of their ability. So the cycle continues, putting further strain on already limited resources.
Right now, governments need to make meaningful, well thought out investments in social initiatives which give people a real opportunity to get their lives back on track. If they don’t the long term disability cost will be an even greater economic burden.