COVID has had a significant impact on the mental health of Australians. Learn how the pandemic has affected suicide rates and how we can respond as a community. Are the people you care about, work with or employ at risk of mental health issues or suicidal thoughts due to COVID?
Find out how to be aware… and how to help. Being confined to our homes and the constant uncertainty and change during COVID was very stressful for everyone. While we stayed indoors and or dealt with an ever changing environment in order to protect our physical health, many people experienced a downturn in their mental health.
Now the crisis is lifting and we have a degree of freedom again, it is important to be aware of the impact of COVID on our overall wellbeing, including our thought patterns.
A national mental health crisis
In the wake of COVID-19, mental health in general has been under the microscope. Rolling lockdowns, health anxiety, job/income loss, loneliness and separation from loved ones have had a significant impact on the Australian population.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in June 2021 one in five Australians reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress. For younger Australians aged 18 to 34, the number was closer to one in three. Figures were particularly bad in Victoria, which spent the most time in lockdown and had some of the strictest rules in the world. In this state, more than a quarter of people surveyed reported suffering from high or very high levels of distress.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that in June 2021 calls to Lifeline were up 19.1%, and calls to BeyondBlue were up 11% compared to the same period in 2019.
Given the unique circumstances caused by COVID and the personal isolation, which can often enhance thoughts of hopelessness, it is easy to understand why pressure on mental health services increased.
A medical industry crisis
Doctors and other healthcare workers have been under intense pressure during the pandemic.
As reported by Adelaide Now, many medical professionals are experiencing burnout and exhaustion after a tough year. Despite their role in helping others, it is upsetting to read that “Data shows medical professionals are more likely to die by suicide than the general population — female doctors 2.2 times more likely, and male doctors 1.4 times.”
The good news
Despite the rise in people reporting difficulties with mental health, there is one surprising and promising fact; Government statistics showed the overall number of suicides in Australia decreased during the pandemic.
While the studies are yet to be completed and it is too early to draw solid conclusions, it is impossible not to consider the correlation between more people reaching out for help and the lower suicide rate.
Research shows show that suicide interventions positively correlate with a lower chance of suicide. It seems that while the population experienced an increase in mental health and social challenges, the focus on supporting each other as a community and increasing helpline resources meant that people were able to overcome life stressors and feelings of hopelessness..
We can all talk about suicide
Suicide can be prevented in many circumstances. Often, is it a simple, honest conversation that can open the door to recovery from suicidal thoughts.
Crisis helplines definitely have a role to play but as family members, carers, friends and colleagues, we can all be proactive when it comes to suicide prevention. Taking a simple, straightforward suicide awareness training course can make the difference between not knowing what to say and initiating a calm conversation that can save a life.
The good news is that alongside caring individuals and helping professionals, professional organisations in Australia are now stepping up to take responsibility for suicide prevention and awareness.
With a view to being people-focused rather than profit-focused, larger companies are joining healthcare, social support and not-for-profit organisation to incorporate suicide awareness and prevention training as part of their staff development policy.
“Ten years ago, most companies saw suicide as a personal or medical issue, and would say it has nothing to do with work. I was banging my head against the wall trying to convince companies to talk to me. Compared to now, when I’m getting calls from major global conglomerates seeking me out, looking for answers and strategy. There’s almost too much to do.”
Having an in-house suicide prevention policy in the workplace encourages team members to look out for each other and reminds individuals that they don’t have to feel ashamed about reaching out for help when they need it.
At Suicide Programs, we are heartened to increasingly hear from organisations that want to take a proactive approach to suicide prevention. The programs we offer are helping to contribute to Australia’s commitment to reducing the number of people we are losing to suicide by putting the issue in the spotlight and sharing the message that everyone has a role to play when it comes to suicide awareness and prevention.
Join the fight against suicide and mental health issues at your workplace. Contact Suicide Programs now to find out more about suicide awareness and prevention programs.