Although the novel coronavirus is a respiratory based illness, social distancing measures taken to control the virus are wearing on our mental health too, write Brianna O’Rourke and Dinita Rishal.
Many people across the nation have taken to expressing the term as ‘physical distancing’ in an effort to highlight that though we may stand 1.5m apart we still stand together.
But social distancing has left many Australians without their usual coping strategies in times of stress.
A recent YouGov survey found one in two Aussies felt isolated, one in four said it put their relationship under strain and 57 per cent of the nation felt generally stressed due to the pandemic.
Professor Patrick McGorry, psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year, says it’s not just the threat of the virus it’s actually the responses that are necessary to deal with it that are wreaking havoc.
“Everybody’s affected but there’s a sub-group of people that will be pushed over the edge over the next few weeks and months,” he said.
“We will see a big surge in need for care and the mental health system is not well prepared for it. We’ve got time to prepare, just like we had time to prepare for the physical risks of the virus.
“We now have, I would say, a few weeks to really get our act together to really strengthen our mental health system and deal with this.”
The YouGov survey also revealed one in five Australians are buying more alcohol than usual during the pandemic, that 70 per cent are drinking more than normal and a third are consuming alcohol everyday.
McGorry says anxiety is the driver in many forms of mental health and the simplest way people are dealing with their anxiety is booze.
This actually causes harm in itself and “so we have to offer better options to reduce general anxiety”.
Sarah Hosking, a clinical psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia says there could be multiple mental health impacts of the coronavirus.
She says anxieties associated with catching the illness and the stress of vulnerable relatives being at risk are both likely.
In addition, financial and economic stress will become more common alongside fears of job loss.
Hosking also mentioned the different Medicare numbers that anyone having a hard time mentally may contact.
“The local mental health network is also encouraging tele-health sessions via Skype,” she said.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has released reports to aid people with pandemic anxiety.
APS’s tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety revolve around positive mentality and keeping things in perspective.
They advise you to change your mindset and ask yourself the below questions rather than imagining the worst-case scenario:
Am I getting ahead of myself, assuming something bad will happen when I really don’t know the outcome? (Remind yourself that the actual number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia is extremely low)
Am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be? (Remember, illness due to coronavirus infection is usually mild and most people recover without needing specialised treatment)
Am I underestimating my ability to cope? (Sometimes thinking about how you would cope, even if the worst were to happen, can help you put things into perspective)
During these abnormal times of self isolation there are othervmeasures you can take to cope with the difficulty of a lockdown the APS says.
They suggest you try to stay connected as positive social interactions are essential for our mental health.
The APS advises you to structure and plan out your day while in iso, “to restore a sense of purpose and normality to your daily life”.
You should change out of your PJs every morning, have a dedicated workspace, and limit distractions.
When WFH it’s easy to lose motivation so setting a strict schedule and clearly defining work hours allows you to switch off when needed.
Self isolating with other individuals 24/7 can give rise to arguments and tension.
APS suggests sharing positive emotions between housemates and communicating your worries and concerns among each other.