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The Impacts That Covid has had on Mental Health

Posted by Erin Fischer on

In 2020 Covid hit our shores with it bringing lockdowns, isolation, panic buying, masks, fear and uncertainty. It also brought a time for the world to heal, with it giving scientists a once in a lifetime opportunity to observe what happens when you take humans out of the world and see animals reclaim what was once theirs. David Attenborough was barely able to contain his excitement in his documentary The Year Earth Changed looked in-depth at the positive impact Covid had on the world due to all the lockdowns and reduced travel.

In 2021 we hoped we were over the worst of Covid, and the vaccine would bring relief. However, Covid continued bringing with it more lockdowns, isolation, more panic buying (though not to the same extremes), masks, fear and further uncertainty alongside vaccination mandates and protests. However, due to these lockdowns and mask-wearing, the flu was almost non-existent in Australia with up until August in 2021 only 484 flu cases having been recorded for the year along with no deaths. This is an amazing achievement when you compare this to 2020 when 20,000 cases were recorded and 37 deaths which was also a huge drop compared to 2019 when 313,033 cases were recorded along with 953 deaths. This allowed General Practitioners (GPs) and hospitals to focus their resources elsewhere on fighting Covid and helping communities adapt to restrictions along with rolling out the vaccine as it became available.

We’re now in 2022 and despite over 92.6% of the population aged 16 years and older being double vaccinated, Covid continues to wreak havoc with cases growing by the thousands every day across the country and with it projected that Australia will reach around 5060 total deaths (since the start of the pandemic) by May 2022 if we continue with how we are going. 

We’re coming into the 3rd year of the pandemic, a pandemic we thought would be over in 2020 or at the very least fixed with a simple vaccine but that’s not the case. Instead, we are stocking up on rapid tests, painkillers, and trying to do our hardest not to get Covid, all while holding onto to hope that things will settle down soon. 

Covid has impacted each of us in some way. People have been separated from families for years (either due to state border or international border closures), jobs have been lost and new ones gained, there’s been uncertainty over the vaccine along with relief once you have had it, many states have had ongoing lockdowns and watched as cases have risen and fallen and seeing what restrictions will be added or removed next and in essential industries, workers have felt the pressure and anticipation of what could potentially happen to build up. 

Everyone has experienced a wide range of emotions throughout the pandemic and it will have had some sort of impact on your mental health regardless of if you have a mental illness or not. Mental illness refers to diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder that impact and affect a person's thinking, feeling, mood and behaviour. Whereas, mental health reflects our emotional, psychological and social well being which many things can impact, including Covid. 

The suicide rate in Australia is down during Covid which defied predictions and expectations, made based on modelling looking at the links between unemployment and deaths by suicide. There are many factors for this with some speculation that a general sense of we’re all in this together had a protective impact. Along with the impact of job seeker payments increasing and the introduction of job keeper which meant that people's incomes were protected (and in some cases increased) which meant that it lessened the financial anxiety for many people. 

There is a clear link between the risk of suicide and socioeconomic factors with employment and unemployment often playing a big part in suicide. This isn’t to say that Covid has had no impact on the suicide rate and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 3.2% of deaths by suicide Covid did play a factor and was mentioned in either a police report, pathology report or coronial finding but in most of these cases, other risk factors for suicide were also mentioned (including mental illness diagnosis, problems relating to employment or unemployment and social environment issues). There has however been an increase in ambulance call-outs to people experiencing suicide ideation (thinking about suicide) and major self-harm behaviours throughout Covid though this didn’t carry over into suicides.

As was to be expected there was an increase in the mental health medications prescribed and mental health services being accessed due to Covid. 

When Covid hit the world, our lives were turned upside down by way of forcing us to change our routines, it made us think about coping strategies more so than ever and people lost the things they took for granted before Covid.  

Work, study and school switched to remote video calls where a daily real human connection was reduced heavily. Things were either cancelled or switched to be consumed through digital media & online. Human interaction converged onto TikTok, Instagram Reels, Twitch, YouTube, online gaming and virtual experiences.

All these things and more seem to continue to impact our lives and more importantly our mental health. It’s not surprising that research done by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare backed this up saying “the potential for COVID-19 to impact mental health and wellbeing was recognised early in the pandemic. In addition to concerns around contracting the virus itself, some of the measures necessary to contain its spread were also likely to negatively impact mental health”.

The rate of people on medication for their mental health increased and continued to remain ahead of what it was the previous year. Mental health services that provided remote support (such as Lifeline, ReachOut and Beyond Blue) according to AIHW.gov.au saw an increased spike in people accessing these services, especially during the periods when lockdowns were announced in various states. 

Psychologist Vince Cram who works at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and has been seeing those affected by Covid since the start of the pandemic said: “Fear and anxiety are an established response to uncertainty and threat. Working with patients in isolation since the emergence of COVID-19 has been a stark reminder of the broad-reaching impacts of ongoing uncertainty. Environmental change, loss of income, isolation and bereavement are triggering individuals’ mental health and exacerbating pre-existing ones, leading to increased sleep disturbance, substance use, and hypervigilance. What is particularly concerning is the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of marginalised groups with existing health and social inequities. Recent research has indicated that those with pre-existing mental health conditions, disability, income, ethnicity, sexuality, and/or gender are more likely to endorse mental health deterioration, challenging emotions, and difficulties coping.”

In October 2020 the Australian Federal Government provided an increase in the amount of Medicare subsidised psych appointments and accessed under a mental health plan. These sorts of appointments increased by 50% in 2020  from the year prior, the Health.gov.au website stated that this was to help cater for the increase in people who needed psychological assistance during the pandemic. There has yet to be an announcement whether this additional subsidised support would stay beyond June 2022. This sort of data will be interesting to review and compare when it comes in this time next year in 2023.

The Covid pandemic has the potential to contribute to and cause long term mental health issues according to findings from The Lancets COVID-19 Commission Mental Health Task Force. The type of impact that Covid has had on mental health and illness will continue long after the pandemic has ended and will need further monitoring and research.  

Here at Barty Single Origin, we are doing our research into mental health so we can better our services, work out exactly what people need and how they are going. You can access this survey and if you do complete our 5min questionnaire you will receive a 25% discount code to use for Coffee or Kit store wide.

 

 

After speaking to Dr Tim Chappell a GP at a Clinic in Fulham Perth about the mental health impacts that he has seen on patients throughout the pandemic, he said: “there is limited research and data available to show how people with pre-existing mental health conditions have handled the pandemic”. 

Records gathered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said that more people have dealt with psychological distress throughout the pandemic. This jumped from 8.4% (among people aged over 18) in February 2017 to 10.6% in April 2020 and fluctuated between 9.4% (in January 2021) at its lowest to 12.5% (in October 2021) at it’s been the highest since.  There are no figures that tell us how many of those had pre-existing mental health conditions before the pandemic. 

The definition of psychological distress that was being recorded was based on people's levels of nervousness, agitation, psychological fatigue and depression in the past 4 weeks using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale which was developed to yield a global measure of psychosocial distress.   

There is no data or records on how many people’s medications and therapies have increased or changed due to the pandemic or how many people were admitted to inpatient treatment due to the pandemic harming their pre-existing mental health conditions. This means that we are unable to see the full picture or the effects Covid has or is having on the mental health landscape. This was the case with Mia McDermott who, struggling with anxiety, bipolar disorder and anorexia and found the pandemic too much to handle and checked herself into an inpatient mental health treatment facility. This is a good example of someone who had a pre-existing mental health condition and the pandemic required increased treatment. 

It's safe to say that Covid will continue to impact the mental health landscape moving forward and some of these impacts will have a lot to do with how we access services, and what services are made available & developed in the future. 

Most recently the Australian Federal Government announced more investment into telehealth appointments,  they said: “Telehealth has been transformational to Australia’s universal health care and has played a critical role in ensuring the continuity of care for hundreds of thousands of Australian patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has offered greater flexibility to health care while supporting universal Medicare access” This means that more people can access a wider range of specialists and get a better range of medical care without needing to travel. 

In Barty’s opinion while the Covid 19 Pandemic has had negative impacts on mental health and mental health conditions it has allowed people to get the help they need with reduced stigma along with accessing a wider range of services. 

This is because the pandemic has put mental health at the forefront of our minds and more people are aware of it. 

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below. 

Peer-Reviewed by Vince Cram a Clinical Psychologist (Registrar) - NSW Health - RPAvirtual Hospital (COVID-19 Clinic)

Resources:

This Way Up - Covid-19 Online Support and Resources

References:

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2020). Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, November 2020 | Australian Bureau of Statistics. [online] www.abs.gov.au. Available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/people-and-communities/household-impacts-covid-19-survey/latest-release#emotional-and-mental-wellbeing.

Australian Government (2020). National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Plan. [online] Available at: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.gov.au/getmedia/1b7405ce-5d1a-44fc-b1e9-c00204614cb5/National-Mental-Health-and-Wellbeing-Pandemic-Response-Plan.

Australian Government (2021). Australian suicide rates down during COVID-19. [online] Australian Government Department of Health. Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/australian-suicide-rates-down-during-covid-19.

Australian Government Department of Health (2021). Vaccination numbers and statistics. [online] Australian Government Department of Health. Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/numbers-statistics.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021a). COVID-19. [online] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/suicide-self-harm-monitoring/data/covid-19.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021b). Mental health services in Australia, Mental health impact of COVID-19. [online] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health-services-in-australia/report-contents/mental-health-impact-of-covid-19.

Banerjee, D., Kosagisharaf, J.R. and Sathyanarayana Rao, T. (2020). “The Dual Pandemic” of Suicide and COVID-19: A Biopsychosocial Narrative of Risks and Prevention. Psychiatry Research, 295, p.113577.

Brady-Brown, A. (2021). The documentary shows what happens to Earth when you take humans out of circulation for a year. [online] www.abc.net.au. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-16/the-year-earth-changed-review-david-attenborough-documentary/100062704

IHME (n.d.). IHME | COVID-19 Projections. [online] Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Available at: https://covid19.healthdata.org/australia?view=cumulative-deaths&tab=trend

Kahil, K., Cheaito, M.A., El Hayek, R., Nofal, M., El Halabi, S., Kudva, K.G., Pereira-Sanchez, V. and El Hayek, S. (2021). Suicide during COVID-19 and other major international respiratory outbreaks: A systematic review. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, [online] 56, p.102509. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7764387/

Kumar, A. and Nayar, K.R. (2020). COVID 19 and its mental health consequences. Journal of Mental Health, [online] 30(1), pp.1–2. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09638237.2020.1757052

Mayo Clinic Staff (2020). COVID-19: How to manage your mental health during the crisis. [online] Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/mental-health-covid-19/art-20482731

Palmer, C. (2021). Yes, There Is a Big Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness | McLean Hospital. [online] www.mcleanhospital.org. Available at: https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/yes-there-big-difference-between-mental-health-and-mental-illness

Pfefferbaum, B. and North, C.S. (2020). Mental Health and the Covid-19 Pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, [online] 383(6), pp.510–512. Available at: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2008017

World Health Organization (2020). Substantial investment needed to avert mental health crisis. [online] www.who.int. Available at: https://www.who.int/news/item/14-05-2020-substantial-investment-needed-to-avert-mental-health-crisis

 

 


 

About Erin Fischer

Am the qualified mental health professional at Barty Single Origin. Write topical pieces with a focus on mental health. Always available on chat, Just say, 'Hey Erin'. Passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and letting people know it's A-OK to be not OK. Mental health advocate, Anxiety survivor, baker, crafter, cat lover, blogger, and always down to get a coffee and chat.


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