It is hard to believe that COVID-19 has been in our country for over 18 months. Those living in Victoria and NSW would be particularly feeling the effects of extended lockdowns.
Aside from my job as a mental health trainer, I work in a regional emergency department as a mental health nurse and have anecdotally noticed an increase in presentations of people in psychological distress, particularly young people. There have also been significant increases in calls to Lifeline and Beyond Blue. People are feeling anxious about uncertainty, and not being able to see friends and family take a big toll.
Those of you working in the employment and community sectors may have noticed an increase in anxiety amongst some of your clients. With the uncertainty around jobs and unpredictable lockdowns, a person who already suffers from anxiety may be finding an increase in their anxiety levels. Moreover, a person who may not have suffered from anxiety prior to COVID-19 may be experiencing anxiety for the first time.
A study by Basyouni and Keshky (2021) found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been huge rises in unemployment levels worldwide. Vast numbers of people have lost their jobs and experienced financial pressure, which has consequently impacted the job security, work-related flow, and financial anxiety of many others as well. The emergence of anxiety and other mental health issues has been shown to be due to the pandemic’s negative impacts on the economy and workforce.
It is reassuring to note, however, that suicide rates have not increased but in fact have reduced.
Suspected or confirmed deaths by suicide in New South Wales in 2020 was 897 compared to 944 in 2019 and in Victoria in 2021 was 708 compared to 718 in 2019.
Some factors that may be contributing to this drop, could be that we have become more resilient as a community and people are reaching out for help, hence the increase in calls to helplines. More psychological counseling sessions were also made available to those struggling with their mental health. The job keeper and job seeker payments have enabled some people to manage financially and keep their heads above water.
Regardless of the reasons for the reduction in suicide, an accumulative effect of COVID-19 over time with ongoing problems such as personal, social, and financial, may play out in the future statistics. I hope not. One suicide is one too many.
Here are some small but valuable tips to help reduce the impacts of COVID-19 for all of us:
- Engage in regular exercise e.g. walking, jogging, yoga, pilates, resistance training
- Spend time in contact with nature
- Social contact and maintaining routines can be supportive for our mental health and wellbeing. Staying connected with friends and family online or by phone can be really helpful.
- Maintain a regular sleep pattern
- Allow for regular leisure time
- Eat regular healthy meals but enjoy that occasional treat
- Try to reduce or eliminate the use of alcohol and other drugs if you feel they are becoming problematic
- Being exposed to large volumes of negative information can increase anxiety. Try to limit your media intake if it is upsetting you or your family
- Find a healthy balance in relation to media coverage. Being exposed to large volumes of negative information can heighten feelings of anxiety. While it’s important to stay informed, you may find it useful to limit your media intake if it is upsetting you or your family
- Seek support and acknowledge feelings of distress and seek further professional support if required
- You can find some great resources on coping through isolation by visiting the following websites: Beyond Blue, Head to Health, and Blackdog Institute.