Australia

As Melburnians begin their second lockdown, mental health experts warn it won't be any easier this time

Victoria Police officers and healthcare workers line up outside a public housing tower in North Melbourne. Source: AAP

Nearly five million people are now under Stage 3 lockdown in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire as authorities scramble to stop the Victorian outbreak.

There are fears the six-week coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne could aggravate mental health issues, particularly among vulnerable sections of society.

Nearly five million people are now in Stage 3 lockdown around metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire as authorities scramble to stop the Victorian outbreak from spreading.

Professor Ian Hickie from the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre said that lockdown was unlikely to get any easier the second time around.

Former national mental health commissioner Ian Hickie.
Professor Ian Hickie, the former mental health commissioner, said people needed to buy into the reasons for the lockdown.
SBS News

"I haven't heard anyone say it's going to be easier," he told SBS News.

"Everyone was prepared at the start, because we didn't want to be like the US or the UK. But now to start all over again, with this hard lockdown in Melbourne, people are more aware of the economic impact and how other things will be disrupted."

Victoria was first put under a Stage 3 lockdown in March.

Professor Hickie, a former mental health commissioner, said many people would be grappling with a "deep anxiety" caused by job uncertainty and a dark economic outlook.

Since the pandemic started, Lifeline has had a 25 per cent increase in calls compared to last year, while Beyond Blue has reported a 40 per cent rise.

Professor Hickie said it was crucial to avoid targeting and blaming specific communities for the current situation.

"In terms of mental health, acting collectively and supporting each other is more important than blaming people and particular communities," he said.

"Some non-English speaking groups have been blamed for the outbreak. We need to be rallying behind those groups.

"We can cope with this collectively, we can't if we start pointing the finger."

Migrant communities raised concerns in late June that they were being stigmatised and singled out for the resurgence of coronavirus clusters in Melbourne.

The federal government has also been forced to defend itself against criticisms that migrant communities weren't consulted during the development of coronavirus response plans.

Professor Hickie said these communities need to feel included within the lockdown plan, rather than feel like it was being imposed on them.

The federal government is investing an extra $500 million in mental health support services because of the pandemic.

Hundreds of people queue outside a Centrelink in Melbourne amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds queue outside a Centrelink in Melbourne amid the coronavirus pandemic. Experts say the economic situation will cause deep anxiety for many.
Getty Images

'Anxiety about what's to come'

Aliza Werner-Seidler, a senior research fellow at the Black Dog Institute, said many Victorians would be anxious about going back into lockdown.

"For many, going into lockdown for a second time will be harder – people are likely to experience what we call 'anticipatory anxiety' – anxiety about what is to come," she told SBS News.

"What we know about anxiety is that people worry and distress about something that hasn't yet happened. [This] tends to be worse than the reality. So there is a risk for this heightened level of anxiety and sense of helplessness at the start of lockdown."

Others could be better equipped to tackle the lockdown, knowing they'd been through it once before, Dr Werner-Seidler said.

"They also have the knowledge that this will end and that knowledge will almost certainly make things easier."

Dr Werner-Seidler said people should seek help early if they felt they were struggling, and should keep in contact with friends, family and others from their community.

"People need social interaction to thrive and function and so while lockdown prevents physical contact, social contact should be encouraged where possible," she said.

"If you feel you are not coping, make an appointment to see your GP - this can be done via telehealth - and speak to them about seeing a mental health professional."

Associate Professor Julian Rait, the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, said the lockdown would be extremely challenging, particularly for people with pre-existing mental health issues.

"Really, it's a challenge even for those with stable mental health going into this."

Dr Rait said although people might be prevented from having face-to-face interactions, they should make the most of the tools available to them.

"I think the most important thing we've done, and it's something we take for granted, is the government's preparedness to move quickly on telehealth. It's an enormous resource."

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au

Residents in affected public housing towers who need access to support and assistance should call the Housing Call Centre on 1800 961 054. If you need a translator, first call 131 450. Both services are 24/7. More information can be found here.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus  

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch