Mental health and COVID-19: Are we really all in this together?

Written by:
Patrick McGorry

Medical Journal of Australia 213(10)

In a nutshell

This editorial is written by Professor Patrick McGorry, a Psychiatrist who is best known as the recipient of the Australian of the Year in 2010 for his work in youth mental health. He is a founder of HeadSpace, and Executive Director of Orygen – a world leading research and advocacy organisation for the identification, early treatment and prevention of youth mental health.

This is a sombre piece, describing how the pandemic caused by COVID-19 will have mental health impacts on society which are significantly more severe and long-lasting than other historical traumatic events which are focal and time-limited. His view is that the mental health impacts related to COVID-19 “have been severe, and worse may be coming.” The challenge with COVID-19 is that there is “no end in sight, producing chronic stress, disruption, and multiple losses.”

In the nine months from February to October 2020, 886 Australians died of COVID-19, yet over 2,000 Australians died of suicide. His strong view is that the majority did not access appropriate mental health care.

His title “are we really in this together” refers to the likely increased impact and particular risk to specific groups in our community, namely those who are already marginalised and disadvantaged. He also refers specifically to the higher risk in younger people who are likely to incur the negative impacts on their mental health and a struggling economy for many years to come. He acknowledges Federal Government interventions but predicts that Australia is extremely ill-prepared for the mental health impacts and levels of support for mental health interventions that are necessary. He is complimentary of providers trialling new modes for the delivery of mental health treatment, such as tele and digital health but expresses concern over the ability for the current health system to cope with the complex, ongoing and increasing mental health demands due to the pandemic and its ongoing repercussions.
He advocates the need for a new approach and presents the urgency to provide mental health support to ‘all’ Australians, moving away from inpatient, hospital care and towards integrated care hub within communities. He refers to the new level of mental health demands as an opportunity to dramatically reform and strengthen the struggling current mental health care system so that it can be accessed by local communities and that no one is treated like ‘second class citizens’.

Implications in workplaces

Working with partners to innovate services delivery and amplify efforts, employers have an opportunity to provide more efficient and flexible access to mental health services, with a particular emphasis for those who need it most. Consider tailoring services particularly vulnerable cohorts across your workforce.

To find out more about Mental health and COVID-19: are we really all in this together? read the full article here.

Date published: November 2020

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