Our experts look at life after COVID-19 and challenges facing young people

Our experts look at life after COVID-19 and challenges facing young people

COVID-19 has brought mental health into sharp focus. RMIT experts look at the coronavirus mental health plan, how young people are affected by the pandemic, and finding your “new normal” post virus.

Finding “the new normal” after COVID-19

With many experiencing significant stress due to COVID-19, people could expect a period of shock as life returned to a new kind of normal, according to School of Health and Biomedical Sciences psychology lecturer Dr James Collett.

“People are going through a whole range of stresses such as strained family relationships, parenting challenges, domestic violence, unemployment, increased debt, alcoholism, and racial discrimination,” he said.

Unfortunately, these wouldn’t simply disappear once risk of infection had reduced, he added.

“With the community's confidence shaken after socially isolating, there was likely to be an increase in fear, distrust, social anxiety, discrimination, germ phobias, and the number of people feeling unsafe in the community,” he said.

As people attempted to return to business as usual, they were likely to go through a stage of shock, with many finding it hard to change bad health habits surrounding eating, drinking, fitness, and sleep that have set in during isolation.

He said the “new normal” could also bring pressure to excel at personal, family, and financial wellbeing.

“People will forget that we have all experienced this crisis differently, and unhelpfully compare themselves to others,” he said.

“We are likely to see many people impacted by mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, anger, trauma, and complicated grief."

Homeless youth

National coronavirus mental health plan

The Australian Government has announced a $48 million national coronavirus mental health and wellbeing pandemic response plan, boosting research, services for vulnerable groups and awareness.

School of Global, Urban and Social Studies’ lecturer Dr Kathryn Daley said it was a first step in attending to the mental health crisis associated with COVID-19 but wasn’t enough.

“Just $29.5 million of this is going to direct services, which will only begin to address the problem forecast by the National Mental Health Commission,” she said.

“If $10.4 million is to be committed to an awareness campaign, we need to ensure that services are adequately resourced to support those who will need help."

She said it was difficult to fully estimate the prevalence of mental health issues, but investment in prevention and early intervention would pay significant social and financial dividends later.

Vulnerable young people hit hard during COVID-19

Daley said young people were especially hard hit by the current economic situation.

“They are likely to have been employed in the most affected industries and in turn lost their jobs,” she said.

“Simultaneously, they are having to adjust to their education being significantly disrupted as education providers have scrambled to adapt to online learning.”

Added to that, those on the margins were suffering in ways we weren’t fully aware of.  

“Outreach workers have been unable to provide visits to vulnerable young people, leaving the most vulnerable members of our community without support,” she said.

There was online support available, but many of those sleeping rough didn’t have access to the internet let alone technology.

“Extended periods without contact to support workers does not bode well for the mental and physical wellbeing of these people,” she said.

At the same time, those in prison and state care often lacked basic human rights during the health crisis.

“We have seen increasing numbers of young people absconding from care, as well as social media campaigns drawing attention to the fact that prisoners are not provided with free soap, highlighting the human rights issues associated with those in institutional settings.”

If you or anyone you know needs help

·       Lifeline 13 11 14

·       Mens Line 1300 789 978

·       Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

·       1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732

·       National Counselling and Referral Service 1800 421 468 or 02 6146 1468

·       Aboriginal Family Domestic Violence Hotline 1800 019 123


Story: Diana Robertson


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