COVID-19 and Lockdowns Impacting Mental Health in Australia

September 10, 2020 Updated: September 10, 2020

The mental health of Australians has become worse since the CCP virus pandemic swept across the nation according to one of the country’s leading mental health experts.

Patrick McGorry, a professor of youth mental health at the University of Melbourne has said that population surveys show a very substantial rise in distress.

“What my colleagues tell me on the frontline is about a 20 percent increase in people presenting,” McGorry said. “Often in quite acute and complex presentations now too.”

McGorry, who is an executive director of Orygen, a youth mental health group, believes that Australia’s first economic recession in 28 years is exacerbating the problem. He argues that it could become a powerful driver for suicide in the coming months.

“We have already seen a rise in self-harm and suicidal behaviour,” he said.

Recent modelling (pdf) by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre has noted that the ‘best case’ scenario, for the next five years, is that Australia will see an estimated increase of 13.7 percent in suicide rates, or close to 20,000 deaths.

In 2018, 3,046 Australians lost their lives to suicide.

The report stated: “Uncertainty regarding how the COVID-19 pandemic will evolve, with associated lockdowns, physical distancing, and quarantine measures, is driving uncertainty around the extent and duration of the resulting economic breakdown, further exacerbating psychological distress and mental health problems among previously healthy people.”

On Thursday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the Morrison government would also be establishing suicide prevention aftercare services in six states and territories. They will also extend another $19 million to leading national suicide prevention services.

“Suicide prevention is a key priority for the Australian Government,” said Hunt. “Each death is a national tragedy and has a devastating effect on friends, families, and communities,”

Mental health has become a priority for the federal government during the pandemic with the government stating they had allocated an extra $500 million for mental health services and support since the beginning of 2020. This extra funding includes $64 million for suicide prevention and $74 million for preventative mental health services.

This builds on the already record spending on mental health, with the Australian government expected to contribute $5.7 billion towards mental health in 2020.

However, McGorry argues that the recent mental health packages from state and federal governments will not be not enough and that Australia is desperately lacking in mental health infrastructure.

He likened the governments’ efforts to firing a hose into a raging bushfire.

“We’ve got to build the right infrastructure for the 21st century,” McGorry said, calling for more digital-friendly mental health support centres.

Anyone experiencing mental health issues can seek immediate advice and support via Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the national digital mental health gateway, Head to Health.

If you are thinking about suicide, living with a person who is considering suicide, or are bereaved by suicide, the Suicide Call Back Service is accessible at 1300 659 467.