The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health

by Sonia Hickey

We’ve heard about the anti-maskers threatening retail workers and about the woman who assaulted a police officer. We read about people lying to police to get across interstate borders and about the people who’ve tested positive to Covid-19 flouting social isolation orders.

The latest popular offence against public health directives is people attending restaurants and cafes, providing false names.

Under new regulations which came into force across the country when restaurants and pubs and cafes were allowed to re-open in May, patrons are required to ‘sign in’ on arrival, providing name and contact information.

But figures released this week show that a significant number of people (one in ten) are actually giving false names and phone numbers. This refutes the entire point of the regulation which is to be able to alert anyone who may have been in the vicinity of someone with Covid-19, as cases as a result of community transmission reach alarming levels in both Victoria and New South Wales.

Unfortunately when this occurs, it becomes impossible to trace the perpetrators, therefore the businesses themselves could potentially face a penalty for non-compliance – of up to $55,000.

While during the original lockdowns which began March a sensible and voluntarily compliant public was widely credited for slowing the spread of the virus, the stories appearing in recent weeks seem to point to the fact that, ‘Covid fatigue,’ could be settling in, resulting in an attitude of sheer defiance as people desperately try to find their own sense of normalcy in this crisis and take control of their lives.

Could this be an early sign that cracks are starting to appear?

So is it possible that these signs of the public behaving badly could be the first signs of psychological ‘wear and tear’ after months of unprecedented changes to our previously normal way of life? Particularly in Victoria which is in its second lockdown phase, much more restrictive than the first?

Under stage 4, there is now an overnight curfew in place in Melbourne, ‘non-essential’ businesses have been closed across the state and wearing masks in public has been made mandatory.

It’s fair to say that if asked, many Australian’s would definitely agree that right now, they’re completely ‘over the corona’. After all, since late February we’ve faced a whole set of new rules and regulations which have severely truncated our freedom of movement, threatened to further erode our personal privacy, and frankly, dulled our overall sense of enjoyment.

The impact of lockdowns on mental health

Psychologists around the world are embarking on or are or part-way through studies to document the effect of lockdowns, which placed inherently healthy people in isolation and required them to adapt, psychologically and physically to a very different way of life.

While traditionally quarantine has been reserved for the sick, putting otherwise healthy people into isolation is something else entirely. And it all came about very quickly, giving us all very little time to adjust.

It’s well documented that social isolation can have severe detrimental effects for people who have a robust mentality, and that for those with mental health issues, the consequences can be devastating.

Suicides set to increase

Recently, The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre presented its forecast for a significant surge in suicides as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New modelling by the centre suggests an additional 1500 suicide-related deaths per year over the next five years, with a projected increase of up to 30% among young people aged 15-25. This is in addition to the 3000 plus lives that are lost to suicide each year, a great percentage of which are male.

In May 2020, the federal government announced a $48 million mental funding package that included extra money for services including Kids Helpline and Lifeline, a new “It’s okay not to be okay” awareness campaign, along with other measures.

But those working the frontline say that’s not really going to do enough.

Social isolation, and the need to get used to a whole new way of life governed by new rules and regulations which come with harsh penalties, are not the only factors that could lead to depression. Job loss will also be a significant factor.

Currently research is being conducted into the impact of job losses during the pandemic. Preliminary findings from interviews with around 1,000 people who have lost work hours or their jobs show that 31% of people have, as a result suffered severe psychological distress, because after all, financial pressure has long been identified as one of the major causes of prolonged stress, anxiety and depression.

While the survey also shows that people who are able to maintain social connections fair better than others, a further 30% admit to drinking more alcohol as a mechanism for coping.

At a time when the country’s senior health experts are consumed by the current pandemic, there’s a strong call for them to look further ahead, at the long-term consequences of ‘the current ‘short-term’ measures that are being put in place to deal with Covid-19.

A bleak picture is already starting to emerge and it shows very clearly that increasing numbers of Australians are going to feel progressively fragile as time goes on, particularly if the recession is long and unemployment remains high. As a result, mental health services are going to be needed on a scale never seen before.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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