With many people struggling to adapt to social isolation and other issues associated with coronavirus, a growing number are turning to mental health services to help them cope with anxiety.

April 27, 2020 17:59:03
Coronavirus is giving Brisbane couple, Brianna and John Arrigo, sleepless nights and stress-filled days.
Key points:

  • The uncertainty caused by coronavirus is creating increasing anxiety
  • Mental health hotlines have seen record demand since the coronavirus lockdown
  • There are concerns the mental health effects will continue long after the restrictions have been lifted

They are both out of work because of the pandemic.
Mr Arrigo was stood down from his job as a pilot and Ms Arrigo was made redundant from her job in administration in the construction industry.
“I’ve never felt stress and anxiety to this level before,” Ms Arrigo told 7.30.
“I’ve suffered from some postnatal anxiety over the past 12 months, and I felt like I’d gotten on top of that.
“But as soon as this all started to happen it brought back all of the feelings.
“Straightaway I started to have the same sort of sense that you just can’t get a breath.
“You constantly feel like there’s a weight on your chest, you’re trying to get a deep breath in and it’s just not there.
“You’ve got this sickness in your stomach that can’t go away.
“It’s like your whole brain gets clouded over.”
Despite what the Arrigos are going through, they acknowledge that there are many people worse off than them.
“We are still here for one another and we are going to get through it,” Ms Arrigo said.
“It’s just a matter of time.”
Mental health services seeing record demand
As the nation struggles to adapt to social isolation and the multitude of issues associated with coronavirus, mental health support groups have received record numbers of calls.
In March, Lifeline received a record 90,000 calls 25 per cent more than the same time last year and half of the callers wanted to discuss coronavirus.
Demand across the Kids Helpline services, including online, is more than 50 per cent higher.
Beyond Blue has seen a 30 per cent increase in calls since before the pandemic.
“We are worried that this is going to be longer term than the days that we’re in restrictions,” Beyond Blue chair Julia Gillard told 7.30.
“People will emerge from this, we think, with various reactions.
“Some will emerge either with having mental health issues exacerbated or experiencing mental health issues for the first time.”
Ms Gillard said there are three main areas of concern.
“Isolation and loneliness; second, financial worries; and we’re having people talk about feeling exhausted,” she said.
“When they started they thought this would be a short period of time and now as they see the weeks stretching out in front of them, it’s putting more of a sense of burden on people’s shoulders.”
‘There have been a few black dog days’
Paul Peacock lives with anxiety and depression and knows that he’s especially vulnerable during these uncertain times.
“Anxiety for me is always a physical thing, that nervous feeling in your guts, your heart might be racing,” he told 7.30.
“This is something we’ve never experienced before and I think that’s where the anxiety builds.”
Mr Peacock is normally in the field training mental health workers, but due to coronavirus restrictions, he’s now working from home.
“My anxiety is building because I wonder what the fallout (from coronavirus) will be and I can’t control that,” he said.
“I’m worried about my kids; a lot of my friends are frontline mental health workers so I worry about them.
“There have been a few days when it’s been that black dog day.”
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
Current situation ‘a perfect storm’
Dr Patrick Clarke, of Curtin University’s School of Psychology, said it is normal to feel anxious in times like these.
“There are a number of factors that we know can contribute to higher levels of anxiety that have combined in the current situation to something of a perfect storm,” he told 7.30.
“There’s high levels of uncertainty about what the future holds, there’s low levels of perceived ability to control the situation and there’s an elevated risk of physical health to people and their loved ones.”
Dr Clarke said a number of things can indicate people are experiencing stress and anxiety.
“It can keep them awake at night and also lead to a lack of concentration during the day,” he said.
“Other factors can be noticing yourself worrying a lot of the time and imagining lots of negative outcomes.
“Also people’s physiology. So attending to a general feeling of tightness in your chest and noticing your shoulders are up around your ears.”
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
Are we equipped to deal with the mental health problem?
R U OK ambassador and champion surfer Layne Beachley understands what people are going through.
“I’ve had my own mental health issues,” she told 7.30.
“The most challenging aspect of this, for me, is the not knowing.
“There’s a lot of people that may have been suffering from mental health issues that may have been able to mask it, keep themselves distracted at work or doing things they really enjoy, and now they’re being told to stay at home and self isolate.
“I think it’s really going to highlight just how many serious mental health issues we have in this country and I don’t know whether we are well equipped enough to actually deal with the problem.”
Ms Beachley says what helps her is sticking to some kind of routine, and despite the restrictions, she can still indulge in her favourite activity.
“My passion is surfing; it’s my liquid valium,” she said.
“It keeps me calm and centred.
“But there is still this sense of, ‘when is this going to end, is it ever going to end and what’s life going to look like after it does?’.”
Look for positives
Dr Clarke has some suggestions for helping people cope.
“There’s a number of things people can do to be a bit kind to themselves and acknowledge that this is actually a really hard time for everyone,” he said.
“Think about how is it that you can reward yourself intermittently and still include some positive things in your life.
“Whether that’s doing some regular exercise, finding ways to have regular contact with people who make you laugh, and find things that you’re enjoying.
“Also good habits, like regular sleep, still eating well these are things we know can be really important.”
While acknowledging that people are shaken by the crisis and uncertain of what the future holds, Ms Gillard said there could be some positives.
“We also hope some people will come out of this and I hope that people are thinking about this already with a new sense of what we can value in life,” she said.
“Traumatic times like this do make us really think about what are the most important things to us.”
What you need to know about coronavirus: