Impact of Lockdowns on Australians’ Mental and Physical Health

The extreme life changes that have been thrust upon the world by the COVID-19 lockdowns have taken a considerable toll on our physical and mental health, without discrimination.

Children, adolescents, adults and the elderly have all been challenged by factors including social isolation, boredom and loneliness, unemployment, financial instability, school and business closures, state and international border closures and extreme and unprecedented social restrictions.

“Common consequences of disease outbreaks include anxiety and panic, depression, anger, confusion, uncertainty and financial stress, with estimates of between 25% to 33% of the community experiencing high levels of worry and anxiety during similar pandemics.” (Black Dog Institute 2020)

As can be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant impact on mental health of the Australian population at large, especially among those who are already vulnerable (Dr. Mandal 2020). Nationally, since 16 March 2020, there has been a 15% increase in the number of Medicare-subsidised mental health services delivered to Australians and 7.4 million services provided (Department of Health 2020).

With around 45% of Australians aged 16-85 said to experience a mental illness in their life (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018), the circumstances of the COVID-19 lockdowns and pandemic have amplified our experience of mental health issues.

It is not surprising that the restrictions imposed on socialising with friends and family, visiting elderly loved ones in care facilities, mourning the death of a loved one at a funeral, celebrating a marriage, attending religious gatherings, working amongst work colleagues, frequenting gyms for exercise or even exercising outdoors (Melbourne, Victoria), have seen the rates of psychological distress, anxiety, and depression symptoms rise among adults in Australia during the peak of the pandemic (Dr Mandal 2020).

Melbourne, Victoria underwent some of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world (Fernando 2020), triggering an increase in usage of mental health services across the state. The use of Beyond Blue’s Support line was 77% higher in Victoria than in the rest of the country, Victorian use of Lifeline was 16% higher and use of Kids Helpline was 24% higher than in the rest of the country (Department of Health 2020).

Ensuring that essential support was available, the Australian Government prioritised mental health and suicide prevention services with record investment in mental health estimated to be $5.7 billion in 2020–21 including an additional 10 Medicare-subsidised individual psychological therapy sessions available each calendar year, a commitment of $2.4 billion to provide all Australians with access to telehealth, $5 million to fast track electronic prescribing and $25 million to support home delivery of medicines (Department of Health 2020).

This unprecedented investment in mental and physical health funding is assisting Australians to deal with the challenges of lockdowns, isolation, fear for loved ones, and concerns about employment (Aust Government Department of Health 2020). However, despite this, the physical health of many Australians with existing chronic health conditions has been a mounting concern following the sharp fall in healthcare participation as a result of the isolation and social distancing advice, as well as a 40% drop in pathology testing – equivalent to over 60,000 Australians per day not getting tests vital to manage their healthcare (Hepatitis Australia 2020).

This delaying or avoiding necessary routine medical care (despite the availability of telehealth consultations) compounded by the fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 as well as feelings of overburdening the health-care system in a time of crisis could put Australians’ long-term health at risk (Ferguson 2020).

Therefore, while the public health messaging has focused on urging people to stay home as a way of saving lives and preventing the spread of COVID-19, it’s important to highlight that as concern over COVID-19 continues, one of the key exceptions to this is the need to seek medical treatment – even if it is in person.

Anyone worried about their mental health, loneliness, finances, family, or other circumstances should be reassured that help is available and accessible and can contact the Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service for free advice and counseling on 1800 512 348 or online. Immediate advice and support is also available through Lifeline (13 11 14) or Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) (Department of Health 2020).

REFERENCES

  1. Australian Government Department of Health. The mental health impact of COVID-19, 2020. https://www.health.gov.au/news/the-mental-health-impact-of-covid-19 (accessed Nov 2020).
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia’s Health 2018: in brief – how do we compare with similar counties, 2018. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2018-in-brief/contents/how-do-we-compare-with-similar-countries (accessed Nov 2020).
  3. Black Dog Institute. Mental Health Ramifications of COVID-19: The Australian context, 2020. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200319_covid19-evidence-and-reccomendations.pdf (accessed Nov 2020).
  4. Department of Health – Ministers. Caring for Mental and Physical Health during the pandemic, 2020. https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/caring-for-mental-and-physical-health-during-the-pandemic (accessed Nov 2020).
  5. Dr Mandal, A. Mental health problems peak alongside COVID-19 in Australia, 2020 https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200729/Mental-health-problems-peak-alongside-COVID-19-in-Australia.aspx (accessed Nov 2020).
  6. Ferguson, C. SBS Insight. Managing chronic conditions in the time of coronavirus, 2020. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/managing-chronic-conditions-in-the-time-of-coronavirus (accessed Nov 2020).
  7. Fernando, G. SBS News. Is Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown really the longest in the world? Here’s how other countries stack up, 2020. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/is-melbourne-s-coronavirus-lockdown-really-the-longest-in-the-world-here-s-how-other-countries-stack-up (accessed Oct 2020).
  8. Hepatitis Australia. Not seeking help may place your health, or your life, at risk, 2020. https://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/news/not-seeking-help-may-place-your-health-or-your-life-at-risk (accessed Nov 2020).
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