Without urgent interventions, more young people will die from pandemic-related mental ill health than coronavirus, one of the country’s top mental health experts Professor Ian Hickie has warned.
- Mental health expert calls for investment in services before demand peaks next year
- Melbourne’s Alfred hospital is experiencing an increase in phone calls and referrals seeking mental health services
- Victorian State Coroner is ‘astounded’ by the ‘significant number’ of suicide deaths each year
Around the country, all the markers of our mental health are worsening.
Emergency presentations are up, helplines are running hot and incidents of self harm are increasing, but Professor Hickie, a former Mental Health Commissioner, says it’s worse in Victoria.
The “shadow pandemic,” as he’s termed it, won’t peak until the second half of next year.
“Unlike the virus, you don’t get sick in seven to 14 days. The factors accumulate,” Professor Hickie said.
“We need investment, it needs to happen at scale and it needs to happen with real urgency, just like we saw for the physical effects of the virus when everyone was very quick to act.
“We cannot afford to wait another year … and then start after we start to see all the adverse consequences.”
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Source: Victorian mental health outcomes, Brain and Mind Institute
Mental health ‘fluctuating’ due to uncertainty
Diver Declan Stacey knows what it’s like to have life upended; just months ago, he was training hard for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I was honed in, focused, I had tunnel vision, doing all the right things for my body,” he told 7.30.
“I think my mental health was really fluctuating a lot there just because of the uncertainty.”
Declan Stacey says he’s trying to find ways to be grateful even though 2020 hasn’t turned out the way he had planned.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard)
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When the Games were postponed, Declan was thrust into lockdown with the rest of the country.
“I was like, now what do I do, this is what I’ve been training for, and now I’m just not doing anything.
“This year has been crazy. You’ve got to be living under a rock to think that it’s been a good one.”
As restrictions ease, Declan’s been visiting school students to talk about mental health and resilience.
“I found that my identity was completely immersed in who I was as an athlete. I realised that’s an unhealthy way to live.
“I’ve been making a choice to be grateful, even if I’m feeling a little bit anxious or stressed out. If this is what 2020 is all about, then it’s just meant to be.”
Demand for hospital services climb
Dr Paul Denborough has already seen a surge in demand at Melbourne’s Alfred hospital, where he’s in charge of the Child and Youth Mental Health Service.
“We’re just getting many more phone calls and referrals, 20-30 more calls a day than we used to,” he told 7.30.
“Young people on their own have really lost hope some of them, and are also really worried about their future.”
Mental health services are reporting increases in demand.(Supplied: Alfred Health, file)
Easing restrictions won’t fix everything
K-K Weah, 21, spent about four months in The Alfred hospital earlier this year.
“What it feels like to have a bad day as someone who has mental health issues, is you can’t wake up in the morning, you’re feeling sick, very sick, and there’s no one to help you,” she said.
“I have a one-bedroom apartment which I’m staying in. I know that a one-bedroom apartment is a bit lonely by myself.”
She said she is trying to change her habits and improve her health.
K-K Weah, 21, says she’s been lonely during Melbourne’s lockdown.(ABC News: Andy Altree-Williams)
“I’ve been able to do some arts and crafts, trying to go for walks and playing basketball since lockdown has eased.”
But she knows easing lockdowns won’t fix things completely.
“When lockdown’s over, it doesn’t mean that mental health is finished. It’s going to stay with you until you try to deal with it and love yourself and who you are.”
Coroner examines two suicides a day
Victorian State Coroner John Cain feels so strongly about mental health he’s agreed to talk to 7.30 about his work and the staggering number of suicide deaths reported to his office.
“Today I was duty coroner, pretty well every day you’re on duty every coroner gets two matters a day that are suicides,” he said.
Victorian Coroner John Cain has started publishing monthly suicide statistics.(Supplied: Coroners Court of Victoria, file)
As state coroner, he investigates all reportable deaths, determines how the person died and what could have been done to prevent it.
“When I came here, I was astounded by the significant number of suicide deaths each year.
“When the road toll reached 700 in this state, there was outcry and outrage but we have 700-plus suicide deaths each year and it pretty much goes without much information or publicity.”
He’s started publishing suicide statistics each month.
The statistics show 580 Victorians have died already by suicide this year.
That’s on par with last year’s figures, meaning there’s not yet been a COVID-related increase in suicide