Professor Patrick McGorry, in The Age this morning warns there has been a surge in traffic to crisis helplines and emergency departments and a 31% increase in Victorians seeking help from GPs, Psychologists and psychiatrists. It’s a second, shadow pandemic of mental ill-health. He says:
In responding to mental health needs during a disaster…. we need to consider three aspects.
First, there is the well-being and morale of the whole population. During a disaster, where there is a universal threat and where severe trauma and loss are a daily reality, well-being and morale will suffer and also there is an increase in risk for mental ill-health. The longer the disaster continues, and particularly if it is compounded by heavy economic and other losses, the more corrosive the impact….
Second, as with any disaster and especially a protracted one compounded by a recession, a whole new cohort of people with mental ill-health and a need for professional mental health care will emerge. My colleagues estimated this to be at 30 percent for the current disaster. This is now being reflected in health services data. The only good news so far is that this surge does not yet seem to have been translated into an increase in completed suicide rates, perhaps in part because the economic impacts have been cushioned so far thanks to government policies.
Third the COVID-19 pandemic struck at a concerning time. The Australian public and our federal and state leaders were beginning to finally respond to the long-term and serious neglect of mental health care. Mental illness, despite being the major health cause of premature death for Australians under 40, and the major health area responsible for loss of GDP and economic productivity across the lifespan, manifested the lowest rates of access and quality anywhere in healthcare.Professor McGorry heads up Orygen, the centre for youth mental health.
He calls for action now for:
- Fast-tracking adult community hubs
- Boosting home-based care
- Digital platforms
- Assertive outreach and vocational support in youth mental health
- Respect for scientific evidence, lived experience, and codesign of mental health services
- A boost in investment and scale for specialist mental health care.