Content warning: This article contains information about experiences that you may find distressing, including suicide, self-harm and family violence. If you are triggered by anything in this report, please call our new service, CHECK-IN, immediately on 1800 845 009.
In March 2020, we shared a survey with our members to understand the impact of COVID-19 on people with lived experience of mental or emotional distress. The results highlighted many concerns, which we were able to raise with the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as other organisations, to ensure effective support was in place.
After the second wave hit, we knew consumers would be impacted even further, with tougher restrictions expected for a longer time. Therefore, we designed a second survey to better understand how consumers in Victoria had been affected and what they needed to support them properly. We received 226 responses from a range of people across the state.
The results were extremely concerning.
In our first survey, 75% of respondents said their mental health was, unsurprisingly, worse in the first wave of the pandemic compared to before. However, this second survey showed that, worryingly, 75% of respondents felt their mental health was even worse in the second wave of the pandemic compared to the first. Even though these findings aren’t surprising given the lack of human contact and routine we have been exposed to, the percentages were disconcertingly high.
A higher percentage of men (80%) than women (73%) felt their mental health was worse in the second wave than the first; but this doesn’t mean that men have been more adversely affected by the pandemic. This higher percentage is likely due to men actually not feeling as badly affected in the first wave compared to women, according to our first survey. 79% of women compared to 52% of men, felt their mental health was worse in the first wave compared before. Knowing this alongside 73% feeling even worse during this second wave, women are clearly more negatively affected by COVID-19. This is a common finding across the state; for example, Women’s Health Victoria found that Victorian women with existing mental health conditions having reported more severe psychological symptoms than men.
An emotion that has been prevalent is lacking motivation and/or tiredness, which has increased by 28% since the first wave, with anxiety and/or panic decreasing by 24%. The longevity of isolation and restrictions on our ‘normal’ lives ae bound to cause lack of motivation and tiredness as our routines have been shaken. Anxiety may have decreased as we have become more accustomed to our reality.
“Incapable of achieving anything worthwhile or of value.”
Interestingly, mental health hotlines were reported by respondents to be the second least accessed service during the second wave. This is worrisome as these hotlines have been easily accessible for all people with lived experience of mental or emotional distress, regardless of where they are, and have been widely promoted across the state. We could assume then that the hotlines are not an effective support for people who already have mental or emotional distress. They may need more than a short connection and possible referral to another service. This is why we have launched CHECK-IN, which is designed to not only connect with consumers struggling during this time, but to also offer a structured peer-based support program.
“Not being able to function to voice pain and distress.”
The most concerning findings from this second survey, however, were the levels of harmful and destructive behaviours our respondents were experiencing. Disconcertedly, exactly half had endured suicidal thoughts or attempts in the second wave of COVID-19 alone.
“Dreading waking up alive the next day”
A fifth had experienced self-harm and over 70% had used alcohol or drugs either a little or a concerning amount. 15% experienced violent behaviour from others and 6% inflicted violence upon others during the second wave. Of those that were in isolation with a partner or a partner and their children who had experience violence towards them, all were women.
The majority of the findings from the survey were extremely alarming. They have raised the need to investigate more effective ways to understand and support people with mental or emotional distress during this time, as well as what is required to eradicate these concerning behaviours altogether.
Even though restrictions are lifting, we are headed into another period of unknown, which causes different feelings of distress. We have not seen the end of the pandemic’s impact on consumers. We must be alert as to how these issues can be dealt with, as well as monitoring their progression.
If you would like to discuss any of our findings further, please get in touch with our CEO, Maggie Toko, at firstname.lastname@example.org.