Combating the darker side of lockdowns

There are fears the lockdown could cause more harm than the coronavirus itself.

Mental health professionals are concerned the lockdowns could increase cases of self-harm and self-medication and lead to increased consumption of alcohol and other drugs and a higher likelihood of suicide or domestic violence.

It is no secret that the mental health of Australians is taking a pounding under coronavirus curfews, restrictions and safety measures.

So the announcement of increased funding and additional support via mental health and community organisations headspace, Kids Helpline, Lifeline and Beyond Blue has been well received.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged the public to look after their mental health and reminded them that GPs are there to help with any mental health issues.

The RACGP has also urged healthcare professionals to look after their own health and wellbeing during these trying times.

Victorian RACGP chair Dr Cameron Loy welcomed the new funding but said that greater investment was needed.

“Today’s announcement is a positive step forward and any additional funding in mental health support for Victorians is great news. However, given the enormity of what Victorian communities are facing, I believe more resources will be needed in coming months,” said Dr Loy.

“We can’t be sure what path this pandemic will take but we do know that timely investment in mental health and suicide prevention can make all the difference. Victorians have already been through a lot and the ongoing uncertainty will only be adding to the strain.”

Dr Loy relayed a message to all Victorians, but particularly to anyone struggling with the challenges presented by COVID-19 lockdowns.

“There is no shame in seeking help; this has been an extraordinarily difficult time for many people. Some have lost jobs or are substantially underemployed, we are separated from our loved ones and not enjoying our usual hobbies and activities,” he said.

“Added to all of that, many people are caring for children at home once again while working, which is far from easy. At times like this, it can seem like every day is bringing with it more bad news; however, you are not the only one feeling this way and it’s okay to put your hand up and say that you need help.

“Support is available so please consult with your GP for any mental health issues and keep in mind that telehealth and telephone consultations are available. If you don’t feel confident using video technology that is okay, an old-fashioned telephone will work just fine.

“The most important thing is that you take that first step and talk to your GP. Remember, too, that 10 additional Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions are available for people living under further restrictions due to the pandemic.

“If you are worried that someone in your life is experiencing difficulties, why not suggest to them that a GP may be able to assist. Looking out for our friends, family and loved ones is particularly important at times like this.”

Mental Health Victoria also welcomed the additional $60 million in funding to expand community and clinical mental health services across the state.

“Pressure is building in a mental health system that was already in crisis before COVID-19 hit. The effects of the pandemic will be felt for years, that is why the initiatives announced today are so critical,” said Mental Health Victoria chief Angus Clelland.

The latest round of funding will fast track more acute hospital beds and boost community mental health service delivery with the aim of providing proactive support to known patients.

It also includes fast-tracking a state-wide rollout of the Hospital Outreach Post-Suicidal after Engagement (HOPE) program across Victoria, and will provide more mental health support for nurses, midwives, police and personal care workers.

“The stakes are very high right now, so we welcome the state government’s continued focus on the mental health of Victorians and the mental health system,” said Mr Clelland.

“[This] announcement follows the additional support recently announced by the federal government that will see funding for helplines and headspace to respond to growing demand from Victorians, as well as additional Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people subjected to further restrictions in areas impacted by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We welcome having the Victorian and federal governments working side by side to support Victorians in desperate need for mental health support.

“Lives will be saved.”

Have you struggled with your mental health during the pandemic?

Australian readers seeking support and information about suicide and depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on treating depression, please visit Beyond Blue.

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