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The profound effects of COVID-19 on mental health

Dr Ross Walker
8 September 2021

Although there is no doubt that the current Delta strain of the coronavirus is creating havoc, not just for our health system but for all of our lives, it is important to put this disease into some perspective.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started in Australia in late January 2020, they have been over 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 and just over 100 deaths from the Delta strain of this virus. But, during the same 20-month period there has been a total of 200,000 deaths in Australia with, as an example, 160,000 of these deaths being from firstly cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke and, coming a close second, cancer.

Also, there is increasing discussion in our society around the profound mental health disorders created by the lockdown, significant social isolation and fear of not just contracting coronavirus but also the anxiety and mixed messages around vaccination.

As one example, a recent survey published through Monash University in Melbourne looked at 1,157 Victorians, demonstrating the profound effects on mental health by the combination of all of the above factors.

10% reported that they seriously considered taking their own lives. One third suffered varying degrees of anxiety and depression, along with other forms of stress related disorders and COVID-19 related traumas. Close to 30% have suffered some degree of burn out from the combination of working from home and home schooling along with all of the other aforementioned factors. 12% had admitted to increased substance abuse. Many people had problems with sleeping and reduction in time outdoors, despite the fact that one of the only options left to us during this lockdown is exercise.

These symptoms were particularly common amongst young adults, unpaid caregivers, people with disabilities and those with pre-existing psychiatric or sleep disorders.

Major factors precipitating these issues include isolation from friends & family, lack of certainty about work and income, home schooling, along with disrupted routines. 

Are there any answers to these issues? The first and most important factor to consider here is that this is temporary. The language coming from politicians is all positive in terms of the returning of our freedoms, once we have reached the vaccination targets. The New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian has been constantly reminding the people of New South Wales over the past few weeks that by mid-October, when we have reached 70% of the eligible population fully vaccinated, vaccinated people will be able to return to life with some sense of normality, including the reopening of retail, hospitality venues such as restaurants and clubs, along with a return to hairdressers and massage therapists. By this time, we should be almost able to travel, at least within our own state. Therefore, if we can see light at the end of the tunnel, this does give us real hope and a plan for the near future.

In the meantime, there are some important tips I can share which may slightly lighten the burden of these very arduous lockdowns.

Firstly, it is important to maintain and established healthy routines such as preparing yourself for the day. Don't stay in bed, change into your regular clothes and make specific plans for each day.

Secondly, see this time as an opportunity to sharpen your lifestyle skills. Follow the five keys of good health.

Use facilities such as Zoom, Skype or FaceTime to regularly engage your friends, relatives or business associates whom you can't see at present. My family has organised a regular Zoom based trivia night. I've included the details of a professional trivia person below and whether it is purely for family, friends or your business colleagues, it is a great way to stay engaged.

Wayne Shapiro
YouTube Corporate Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4IzCHHBbbE
[email protected]

Also, use this time to develop new skills. Being online, allows us to learn a new language, learn or improve your musical skills such as dusting off the old guitar or any other musical instrument for that matter or possibly do an online course in a subject you’ve always wanted to learn. If there is something you’ve wanted to do around the house that you’ve put off for a variety of reasons, do it now!

I have been meditating regularly on a daily basis for the last 28 years and I cannot imagine a life without meditation. Again, there are many online courses that allow you to develop skills in this area.

We are all suffering the effects of lockdown, but we are now in the home stretch. Stay in touch with your friends, family and business associates and realise that everyone is feeling the same and that we all need support. I look forward to the time in the very near future when we can talk about something other than COVID, vaccinations and pandemics.

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