Mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic

Mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted employment and income security, and understandably negatively affected many people’s mental health.

A poll from July 2020 revealed specific negative impacts on mental health and well-being. People reported difficulty with sleeping (36%) changes to appetite and eating (32%), increases in substance use or alcohol consumption (12%), and worsening of chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

There have been some steps taken at both the federal and state levels to address these impacts on mental health, but with mental health problems on the rise, key issues are likely to persist.

There has been an increase in the number of Medicare subsidised sessions to see a psychologist available for people with a clinically diagnosed mental disorder from 10 sessions to 20 sessions. These extra sessions were originally available for people in areas subject to lockdown restrictions due to the pandemic and have since been extended to all Australians regardless of location. Availability for the plus ten sessions has been extended until December 2022, with many psychologists advocating for this to be extended or preferably made permanent. Medicare subsidised telehealth options have also been extended indefinitely.

However, the issue of psychologists availability and the out of pocket expenses after the Medicare rebate remains a concern, and a barrier for equity of access. Psychology bodies like the Australian Association of Psychologist incorporated (AAPi) continue to lobby for an increase in the subsidy for all psychologists and for other solutions including appropriate Medicare rebates for provisional psychologists to increase utilisation of our current available mental health workforce.

What can you do if your mental health has been impacted?

A psychologist can help you with your mental health. If you are noticing changes to your mental health, coping or sleeping often a good first step is to schedule an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns as the ability to access Medicare rebates discussed above, will require a GP Mental Health Care plan. You do not need to see your GP to book an appointment with a psychologist and some people will book an appointment without a GP mental Health Care Plan to get started faster understanding no Medicare rebate will apply.

Importantly if you are feeling you need to speak to someone for immediate support you can access any of the amazing helplines listed at the bottom of this resource.

There are also some things that you can start to implement immediately that may be useful.

Take care of your body:

  • Get enough sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Simply sticking close to your typical sleep-wake schedule can help significantly. Sleep Hygiene – A guide to a Better Night’s Sleep
  • Participate in regular physical activity. Regular physical activity and exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Make it fun and include movement like dance or nature trails.
  • Eat healthy. Choose a well-balanced diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Using alcohol to try to cope can  reduce your coping skills and make matters worse. Avoid taking drugs to cope, unless your doctor prescribed medications for you.
  • Limit screen time. Turn off electronic devices for some time each day, including 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Make a conscious effort to spend less time in front of a screen — television, tablet, computer and phone. Digital Wellness
  • Relax and recharge. Set aside time for yourself. Even a few minutes of each day can be refreshing and help to settle your mind and reduce anxiety. Many people find practices such as deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, mindfulness or meditation very beneficial. Soak in a bubble bath, listen to music, or read or listen to a book — whatever helps you relax. Find what works for you and do it regularly.
Take care of your mind

Reduce stress triggers:

  • Keep your regular routine. Maintaining a regular daily schedule is important for both your physical and mental health. This predictability can also help you feel more in control.
  • Limit exposure to news media. Constant exposure to news of all that is wrong or negative can significantly impact your mood. This includes limiting your social media that may expose you to further distress. Choose to keep up to date on national and local recommendations so you can stay across things. 
  • Stay busy. Choosing healthy distractions can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression. 
  • Focus on positive thoughts and practice gratitude. Choose to focus on the positive things in your life, creating a gratitude practice. Consider starting each day by listing things you are grateful for. Or finish the day reflecting on what has gone well for the day. 
  • Practice self compassion. Research reveals that showing kindness to yourself, noting that you are human and none of us are perfect improves overall life satisfaction and improved happiness. How to Nurture Self Compassion
Connect with others

Build support and strengthen relationships:

  • Foster connections. Make time to spend time with loved ones and those friendships that “build you up”. Speak to trusted people or connect with your community or faith based organisations.
  • Do something for others. Find purpose in helping the people around you. Helping others is an excellent way to help ourselves. Engage with a local charity or volunteer with a course that aligns with your values.

LifeLine: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or chat online

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Suicide Callback line: 1300 659 467

Written By:

Cheryl Gale
Proactive Health & Movement

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