Being myself someone who utilises various resources to manage my mental health, I guess I have a particular interest in how the government responds to the mental health implications of COVID-19 over the next few years. Given the prevalence and indiscriminate nature of mental health issues across our society, I think we all do.
Mental health was addressed by the Australian government early on the in the COVID-19 puzzle, with the Prime Minister announcing around $140 million to directly support mental health services (as part of a $1.1 billion health care package).
While it was prudent to be proactive, paradoxically the government’s early attention to the area of mental health probably comes well before we’ll see the peak of any associated crisis. In fact, the vast majority of us seemed to have coped with the introduction of lock-down measures exceptionally well – at least to begin with – perhaps able to minimise things like losing jobs and having to isolate ourselves from friends and family by taking the “bigger picture” view, which after all did include a rapidly spreading, fatal virus.
A suggestion: let’s get our health system to a point where anyone can easily access mental health services tailored to their individual needs, regardless of [their financial, physical or intellectual status].
But, at only just over 100 COVID-19-related deaths across Australia at the time of writing, and only a small number of active cases across our country, the wake of COVID will probably not so much be the lives lost (as tragic as those deaths are), as it is the impact to the economy we had to put into caretaker mode, and the routine societal functioning we had to abandon. Even places of worship shut down.
At the individual level, what comes with a halted economy and isolation is an array of conditions that tend to lead to diminished mental health: lack of human connection; lack of structure; financial insecurity..the list goes on. If you’re of the view that mental ill-health was already something of an epidemic of the modern age, you must suspect we’re on the precipice of a major health crisis, which needs to be dealt with as radically as the physical threat of the virus.
In terms of government funding to date, there does seem to be a bit of a mismatch at play: yes, it’s extremely important to keep people employed, hence the magnitude of the JobKeeper/Seeker stimulus package. But it seems troubling that we would be spending $70bn on JobKeeper (with more clearly on its way), but only $140 million – the equivalent of roughly $5 per Australian – on direct measures to support mental health-related services.
Something is of course better than nothing. And the money has gone to established mental health support organisations, like Beyond Blue and headspace, which have in turn quickly geared up to deal with COVID-19 flow-on effects.
(See an example of some good practical advice in dealing with isolation from Beyond Blue here.)
But the thing with mental health issues is that, firstly, they tend to sneak up on you. So, while in theory, easily accessible online resources are great, they assume that the sufferer has a sufficient level of self-awareness of their condition to not only to explore it online, but also to avoid the trappings of Dr Google’s abundance of misinformation (explored in an article on SBS here).
Secondly, mental health is by its nature very individualised. In a clinical sense, one brain is not like another. Generic resources and conversations can only go so far in aiding someone’s recovery. If mental health could be dealt with using a one-size-fits-all approach, it simply would not the huge societal issue it is today.
So, in gearing up our health system to manage this potential crisis, we must recognise and address these factors (among others), notwithstanding that it probably means a resource-intensive approach. In other words, yes, it will be difficult and expensive. But it’s not forever. Like ScoMo and Frydenberg said of the economic objective of the stimulus packages, they are intended to build a bridge to the other side. The same must go for our mental health response. We must get everyone to the other side.
Exactly what that requires, I don’t know. But a suggestion: let’s get our health system to a point where anyone can easily access mental health services tailored to their individual needs, regardless of:
- financial position;
- level of internet savvy; and
- any physical or learning disability.
Let’s also recognise that for so long as COID-19 remains in any way a physical threat, anyone, let alone someone dealing with a mental health concern, may be anxious about needing to physically attend a medical appointment. Medical and psychological appointments can surely take the lead of all other industries and move to online consultations, even if only temporarily.
A few notes:
- In fairness, in response to COVID-19 – and the exacerbating factors it brings in respect of domestic violence and abuse – the government’s department of social services has already launched a ‘Help is Here‘ campaign. More of the same, including across substance abuse and gambling would be very welcome.
- In what feels like a life-time ago, I wrote a book on gambling, The Dark Side of the Punt, which includes some practical tips on how to limit or stop. If you feel like you could do with a copy, email me here and I can arrange a copy to be sent to you (stock permitting).
- Check out some other Mr Double Speaker posts on COVID-19 mental health, including this one, which looks at how Flume’s worst nightmare actually relieved some of his anxiety.