Long-term mental health effects foreseen

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Mental health services could be under pressure for years due to the effects of Covid-19, a situation akin to the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, according to a mental health expert.

There are fears the isolation and uncertainty of lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus could have significant impacts on the mental health of New Zealanders.

The Government has poured funding into a range of initiatives, from apps to resources for talking about the virus with children.

Southern District Health Board mental health, addictions and intellectual disability medical director Dr Evan Mason said southern services, which were mainly being delivered over the phone, had been able to manage demand well for the first weeks of the lockdown.

"Things are starting to pick up a bit. I think that’s natural given how people must be feeling," he said.

The mental health impacts of the virus would be felt for years, he said.

"We all need to realise that things aren’t going to just go back to the way they were before.

"Over the next few years, there’s going to be more stress and anxiety coming through as a result of this intensive period of pressure and trauma.

"We clearly saw that in Canterbury in the period after the earthquakes, that particularly young people were affected for years afterwards."

That could mean higher rates of anxiety and depression, and a focus on enhancing primary frontline services for people to access, he said.

"We’re looking at a number of phases. The first is how we get back to delivering those normal services, then we’re expecting there’s going to be a time when we’re playing catch-up with people who have been struggling, just managing by themselves but showing the strain of that.

"Then settling back down into a new normal, it’s a chance to look at what we’re doing now that we are working, and what we need to keep doing in the future so if there’s any better ways we can be working with people in the future."

While most face-to-face services are on hold for now, telephone services and emergency responses were still available.

He urged people to keep in contact with friends and family, and to consider their coping mechanisms.

"It’s natural to be anxious about things like this."

Need help?

Need to talk? 1737, free 24/7 phone and text number
Healthline: 0800 611-116
Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543-354
General mental health inquiries: 0800 443-366
The Depression Helpline: 0800 111-757

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