How To Look After Your Mental Health Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
One in five Australians already battle a mental illness and it is feared that number will increase amid tough social distancing restrictions, job losses and the need for self-isolation caused by the coronavirus.
Experts say this social change can affect mental and emotional health, something psychologists believe must be nurtured during this uncertain time.
La Trobe University psychology lecturer Matthew Ruby said past research has linked isolation to a higher risk of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
He said the risk of those outcomes are even higher for people with disability, the elderly, people experiencing domestic violence, and those who had recently lost their jobs.
"It's important to be kind to yourself by lowering the bar," Ruby said.
"In the midst of a global pandemic, don't expect that you're going to maintain your normal level of productivity, stay quite as active as usual, or always make ideal food choices."
Griffith University's human services and social work professor Jennifer Boddy said times of disaster and crisis affect a person's mental health and would likely have ongoing effects.
She said the number of people accessing mental health services would increase as a result.
"People commonly refer to it as 'cabin fever' -- a term to describe feelings of annoyance, frustration, boredom and tiredness that comes with being on our own and stuck somewhere," Boddy said.
As humans, we rely on social interaction and the isolation that's required can adversely affect our mental health.
Boddy said social distancing also makes it more difficult to determine if friends or extended family had developed a mental illness.
How Can We Manage Our Mental Health?
To help, experts suggested continuing with structure and routine, focusing on projects or tasks, exercising, getting sunshine if possible, and remaining in contact with family and friends by using technology.
"People in Wuhan spoke about writing a diary and some felt it was helpful and therapeutic, particularly if they had any anxiety," Boddy said.
But consuming copious amounts of pandemic-related news and abusing alcohol and drugs won't help.
Beyond Blue chief Georgie Harman said staying connected with family and friends is vital to maintaining good mental health.
"We expect that there will be more demand for mental health support as the health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19 play out," Harman said.
What Is The Government Doing To Help?
On Sunday, the federal government announced a major funding boost to mental health services as part of a new $1.1 billion package.
To bolster mental health, a new dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line will be set up by BeyondBlue, funded with $10 million from the federal government and $5 million from Medibank.
Beyond Blue has also developed online resources about coping with the pandemic, with its forum already viewed more than 21,000 times.
It will help people who are concerned because they have been diagnosed with the disease, or are experiencing stress or anxiety due to employment changes, business closure, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges.
Lifeline Australia Chairman John Brogden said the additional funding will ensure that no Australian has to face their darkest moments alone during the COVID-19 outbreak.
As well, the government will give existing mental health support line services, including Lifeline and Kids Helpline a $14 million boost.
Another $150 million will boost programs already in place to combat domestic violence.
This will include counselling, the 1800RESPECT domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service, Mensline Australia, the trafficked people program, and support for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves and stay in a home of their choice when it is safe to do so.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000. If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Beyond Blue is building its new service while continuing to take calls on on 1300 22 4636 or via an online chat.
Otherwise, talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.