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Serious concern for impact of economic crisis on people’s mental health

26 June 2020
 
 
 

In the wake of Qantas’s announcement to shed over 6000 jobs as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, the President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has reaffirmed his concern for a potential next wave of mental ill health.

‘We have experienced the fear, anxieties and distress associated with the virus, and the mental health issues which have emerged with the confinement and social isolation of the pandemic restrictions,’ said Associate Professor John Allan.

‘We must now turn our attention to preventing a next dramatic wave of mental ill health caused by the cumulative effect of these and compounded by the impacts of an economic downturn.’

The RANZCP emphasised the need for continued, comprehensive and targeted investment by governments to mitigate the mental health effects of economic crisis.

‘These kinds of announcements remind us that the full impact of the pandemic, including the medium and longer term mental health, social and economic consequences are still to come.

‘Even as the COVID-19 curve steadies, the associated economic impacts – income instability, loss of income, rising levels of unemployment and housing problems – will last longer and continue to be felt severely across the community.

‘Australia is already in an economic recession. The Grattan Institute predicts that between 14 and 26 per cent of Australian workers could be out of employment as a direct result of the shutdown, and the crisis will have an enduring impact for years.

‘We know that recessions are significantly associated with poor mental wellbeing, increased rates of common mental disorders, substance-related disorders and suicidal behaviours.

‘People are more vulnerable to the effects of a recession if they are unemployed, have a precarious work situation, face debts and economic strain, and have a pre-existing mental illness.

‘Economic recession may also have a severe and long-term impact on mental health in children and young people, especially if they face stress within the family as a result of financial hardship or if their parents are out of work.

‘We are already seeing elevated levels of clinically significant depression and severe and complex mental distress, and there is a concern for increased levels of anger and aggression as well.

‘If you have strong feelings of unease, worry or fear and you are struggling to cope, it is important to seek the right support, information and help, especially if you are experiencing a level of mental distress which is affecting your ability to go about your day.

‘We also know from research that pandemics can be linked to elevated suicide rates, with the latter also associated with economic downturns.

‘Further to the successful efforts to suppress the spread of the virus, it is time for significant government action in the form of meaningful work and education programs, the provision of adequate community services and family safety nets, and innovative debt relief programs for people in need.

‘Along with ensuring quality and equitable access to appropriate healthcare for all, especially for people at high risk of mental ill health, income support and social services should be effectively integrated into an individual’s mental health care pathway,’ said Associate Professor Allan.

‘It is recognised that there are people in need of mental health support and care, who are not connected with the services – it is important that we have ready points of access for people, wherever they are, and we can link them directly to the specific kinds of multi-disciplinary and co-ordinated care they require.

‘We also strongly support the ongoing use of telehealth in psychiatry to facilitate more choice for consumers and to bring the productivity gains that come with patients spending less time traveling and away from their work.

‘Importantly, just as the economy can shape a population’s mental wellbeing, better mental health can in turn become a major driver of economic growth.’

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Sarah Carr on +61 437 315 911, or email media@ranzcp.org.

For all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.