COVID-19's toll on our mental health

COVID-19's toll on our mental health

Victorians have been social distancing since March due to COVID-19, while Melbourne has endured the strictest restrictions. Our experts identify three key impacts on mental health.

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Mental health services

Senior Lecturer in Law and Social work Dr Chris Maylea says Victoria’s mental health system was broken before the pandemic and has not been able to respond to the crisis since.  

The Victorian government recently allocated $60 million to mental health which Maylea says while welcome is not enough to fix the crisis.

“The coronavirus and related restrictions have had devastating effects on people’s lives and livelihoods,” he says, while pre-existing issues “remain unaddressed such as discrimination and oppression.”

He worries for the future of mental health in Victoria.

“As we come out of the harshest coronavirus restrictions, we must make sure we do not leave behind our most disadvantaged community members, or Victoria will suffer the consequences for decades to come,” he warns.

Moving forward, mental health services and support must focus on the social determinants of mental health.

“This means ensuring housing, income security and a life free of discrimination for all, not just for those who were able to weather the pandemic,” he concludes.

The music industry

The closure of the live music industry due to coronavirus has led to widespread financial loss, job insecurity and anxiety for the future of Australian music says lecturer in Music Industry Dr Kat Nelligan.

“The situation has placed additional emotional strain on an industry already dealing with a mental health crisis,” she says, recording “high levels of depression and attempted suicide."

And Victoria has been hit particularly hard due to its extended lockdown period, with many in the industry finding it difficult to cope with the uncertainty and financial strain. 

However, Nelligan points to some signs of optimism and hope for a bright but different Australian music industry.

With a recent survey indicating “regular gig-goers are eagerly waiting” for the return of live music, peformers “are trying their best to stay afloat with livestreaming gigs” until they can return to the stage.

“While performances via Instagram and Twitch won’t replace live music, we can view these as short-term solutions that offer hope when the future of music feels so uncertain,” she says.

For those seeking help, Support Act offers financial assistance to music-industry workers and has a 24-hour wellbeing helpline (1800 959 500).

Man with guitar The music industry has taken a $340 million hit in lost wages since venue closures, with many finding it difficult to cope with the uncertainty and financial strain.

Children and young people

Expert in youth issues and policy Dr Kathryn Daley says youth mental health was already a concern but COVID-19 has made it worse.  

In August, Victoria recorded a 33% rise in young people presenting to emergency departments for intentional self-harm over the past six weeks compared to the same time in 2019.

At the same time General Practitioners(GPs) are reporting an increase in anti-depressant prescriptions in children and young people.

“GPs are being forced to take on the role of mental health clinician for children and young people, when they should be seen by specialist services,” Daley says.

“This is due to a lack of specialist services prior to the pandemic combined with an increase in the number of people needing to access these services because of the mental health effects of the pandemic.

“We anticipate that young people will bear the burden of mental ill health because of extended lock-downs, school and university closures, high youth unemployment rates and no economic plan to help their recovery.

“That’s why we need to address the urgent and critical needs of young people in our society that existed prior to COVID-19 and have been made worse by it.”


Story: Diana Robertson

 If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline Australia (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1800 512 348), or Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).



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