Australia

Australians urged not to neglect mental health during 'pressure cooker' coronavirus pandemic

Chief executive of the National Mental Health Commission, Christine Morgan, has urged Australians to look after their mental health. Source: AAP

The overall use of mental health services in Australia has declined during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the head of the National Mental Health Commission.

The government's top advisor on suicide prevention is urging Australians not to neglect their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive of the National Mental Health Commission Christine Morgan on Wednesday revealed new statistics showing the overall use of mental health services has been declining in Australia during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Why is that happening? What we think is that for those who would normally be using mental health services are not actually going out and doing those visits," she told reporters at a press conference alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

"I do this as a call out to all Australians. You do still need to contact your mental health services."

Ms Morgan said many were living in a "pressure cooker" as they tried to cope with stresses such as isolation from loved ones and job uncertainty.

Although the overall use of mental health services had declined, there had been an encouraging rise in the use of telehealth services such as Beyond Blue, Ms Morgan said.

"Beyond Blue has seen a 40 per cent increase in contacts being made to it compared with this time last year.

"In those calls, we're seeing an increase in stress levels, an increase in anxiety levels. We are also hearing - and this is anecdotal - that people are not feeling as safe as they once did. I think that is a concern."

Last month, mental health services - including Kids Helpline - reported a rise in demand since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with Lifeline preparing for a 25 per cent increase in calls.

Kids Helpline, which supports Australians aged between 5 and 25 years old, received an additional 3,855 contact attempts between 1 December and 25 March, compared with the same period the previous year.

Experts have advised people to stay off social media as much as possible, only check the news when necessary, and connect with friends and family over the phone or digitally to limit negative mental health impacts during the pandemic.

Beyond Blue has also released advice on how people can protect themselves during isolation, which includes limiting consumption of media coverage, keeping regular meal and sleep schedules and remembering to keep in contact with people.

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.

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