The mental health toll of Covid-19 lockdowns
During 2021, most people around the world were subject to a period of lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19.
With lockdowns in Australia lasting several months, the personal effects of these isolation periods are not to be underestimated.
According to a new report by the Mental Health Commission of NSW, one in eight people have emerged from the pandemic with a new mental health condition.
As a result, the nation-wide mental health system is facing immense pressure, with wait times for mental health specialists stretching to more than six months in some parts of New South Wales alone.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey told the Sydney Morning Herald that Australia will need to recruit from abroad to boost its depleted and exhausted mental health workforce, as demand far outweighs supply for services after two years of lockdowns and pandemic distress.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show a dramatic 25 percent increase in those seeking mental health services compared to the same time pre-pandemic.
“As demand on services rises, waiting lists for specialists are blowing out to more than six months, particularly in regional parts of NSW,” Lourey said.
“Our biggest obstacle is getting nurses and specialists on the ground now. We need intense focus on growing our existing workforce, re-training and looking overseas to recruit more psychologists, peer workers, social workers, nurses and counsellors,” Lourey said.
A commission into the ongoing impact of the pandemic shows that the lockdowns of 2021 had a more detrimental effect on mental health than the first year of the pandemic.
A survey of more than 2,000 NSW residents in November and December of 2021 found one in eight experienced a new mental health condition, the most common being anxiety and depression.
People aged 18 to 29 were the most likely to experience a new mental health issue.
Sixty-one percent said their mental health was negatively impacted by COVID-19 in 2021, up from 55 percent in 2020.
Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, said the report indicated a need for ongoing support as the community realises Covid-19 will still cause disruption in their lives, even though lockdowns have ended.
“2020 was bad, 2021 was worse, and 2022 could be at least better than last year, but we are not back to pre-pandemic yet,” he said.
“We wouldn’t expect that until at least 2023, and that is assuming nothing else goes wrong.”
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