Whilst we are seeing a flattening of the curve and some relaxation in restrictions across Australia and New Zealand, we must still act to ensure mental health services across all areas are enhanced and prepared to support the anticipated increase of people seeking access to these services.
‘We need to act now in anticipation of the variety of situations people may unexpectedly find themselves in, sometimes for the very first time, and make sure there is ready access to the full range of services to meet their specific needs’ said Associate Professor John Allan, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP).
‘There will be those who have always been independent and financially stable whose lives are now fundamentally altered through the loss of a job, their business or access to income – now dependent on government and other financial support for the first time.
‘There is already evidence of spikes in alcohol sales and online gambling and we are hearing of an escalation of family violence and abuse. Many more young people are contacting helplines with mental health issues. Suicide is another area we will have to monitor closely.
‘There needs to be greater visibility of effective treatments and settings for mental health care and full access to health care and health professionals such as counsellors, support services, and psychologists, as well as medical specialists – general practitioners and psychiatrists – for everyone who requires support.
‘There is also a risk that many businesses and organisations such as those in retail, tourism and other service sectors will not recover in the way we think.’
The RANZCP emphasises that these stresses will have physical and mental health impacts which cannot be underestimated, and governments need to make sure everyone who requires help receives it.
‘This means acting now to prepare for increases in service use and delivery to meet a variety of patient needs as and where they arise, including increases in demand for mental health care.
‘Digital health and other telehealth and telephone services have been rapidly and successfully expanded during this pandemic and a continuation of these practices post-COVID-19 will be beneficial – there is also a solid case for significantly enhancing frontline psychiatric and trauma services.
‘We also want to avoid a situation where we see a surge in utilisation of the public health system because of large numbers of people who can no longer afford to maintain their private health insurance – governments need to act decisively to support people in financial stress to maintain their insurance cover.
‘All of this requires governments to scale up and resource mental health services and supports across settings and sectors so that they are able to operate in ways that may not have been the case before.
For more information and for all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.
ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Sarah Carr on +61 437 315 911, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.