As we face the reality of a COVID-19 world, mental health has risen to the surface as an immediate and far-reaching health challenge. While the acute health impacts of the virus are well-known, and the economic effects of the lockdown are impossible to ignore, mental health challenges can be harder to define and more difficult to treat. As fear, worry, and stress become the new normal, it's more important than ever to look after our mental health and make peace with this strange new world.
The number of people seeking help from mental health services has soared since the beginning of the pandemic. COVID-19 continues to cause anxiety and depression, isolation is linked to disconnection and loneliness, and financial stress is a new reality for many. Much of the stress from COVID-19 is related to a fear of the unknown, with the ever-changing global health threat combined with unknown vaccine and treatment options and a complete lack of financial security.
According to Professor McGorry, executive director of youth mental health organisation Orygen, the pandemic has had a "very major effect on the mental health of everybody. Obviously, people are struggling with the lockdown. Normally, the things you do to maintain your mental health, you are just not able to do them at the moment. So lots of people are going over the edge here." While the current situation is affecting everyone, young people are affected more than most due to massive reductions in the casual workforce and severe disruptions across the education sector.
Statistics from Lifeline in Australia show people across the country struggling with their mental health more than ever. In its most recent data, the hotline received 25% more calls than the same time last year, which is the equivalent of one call every 30 seconds. In the UK, the NHS recorded a sharp rise in people reporting severe mental difficulties, despite a 30% decline in referrals to mental health services. According to NHS Confederation's mental health lead Sean Duggan, "intensive support and investment" is needed now, because "if you leave problems they can get worse."
According to Beyond Blue, there are many ways you can look after your mental health while self-isolating. First and foremost, it's important to remind yourself that this is a temporary and necessary period. Secondly, it's crucial to stay connected with people, and engage in enjoyable activities to keep you relaxed and healthy. If you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed due to the virus, it's important to seek support from friends, family, and professionals if needed. Along with staying connected and remaining active, there are many things you can do to retain a degree of certainty and control in your daily life.
Sound financial management is more important than ever, although it can be challenging due to unknown variables. Even in the toughest of situations, looking after your finances is a great way to achieve clarity as you forge a path ahead. Perhaps more than anything, however, the best way to look after your mental health right now is to hold on to hope. According to Professor McGorry, "People have just got to take one day at a time and try to get through the next few weeks and then I think it will be a much better period ahead... Just don't give up on hope. Hope is a life-saving commodity that we all need."