Our state of mind is wor­ry­ing

The Timaru Herald - - Opinion -

It won’t sur­prise many that men­tal health is one ca­su­alty of the Covid-19 cri­sis, even though it may ap­pear less im­me­di­ately vis­i­ble than other health ef­fects or the eco­nomic cost.

Dis­trict health boards be­gan to no­tice in­creased de­mand for men­tal health ser­vices within a cou­ple of months of the first lock­down. Ko¯i Tu: The Cen­tre for In­formed Fu­tures, an Auck­land Univer­sity think tank and re­search cen­tre led by Sir Peter Gluck­man, warned in June that Covid-19’s im­pact on our well­be­ing was only start­ing to be ap­pre­ci­ated. Along with Covid19’s dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on al­ready vul­ner­a­ble sec­tors of so­ci­ety, Gluck­man and his col­leagues ex­pected to see a sec­ond co­hort of at-risk peo­ple af­ter na­tional and in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic down­turns and ex­pected in­creases in un­em­ploy­ment.

In Spain, which has had more than 700,000 cases and more than 31,000 deaths, the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of Covid-19 were pub­lished in a re­port in June. It was found that 36 per cent of par­tic­i­pants re­ported mod­er­ate to se­vere psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact, 25 per cent showed mild to se­vere lev­els of anx­i­ety, 41 per cent re­ported de­pres­sive symp­toms and the same num­ber felt stressed.

It is also a time of great anx­i­ety in coun­tries such as ours that have largely es­caped the high death tolls seen else­where. Po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty adds an­other layer of worry to an al­ready stressed pop­u­la­tion.

Ko¯i Tu fol­lowed up its ear­lier warn­ings on Covid-19 with a re­port this month that spoke of the ur­gent need to con­front a ‘‘pan­demic of psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress among youth’’, ris­ing ‘‘at an alarm­ing rate’’, in New Zealand and in­ter­na­tion­ally. Both ‘‘the un­der­ly­ing causes and the need for pre­ven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion’’ in this grow­ing youth men­tal health cri­sis have been largely ig­nored, Gluck­man and his co-au­thors said.

We have nearly reached the end of Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week, which has been run­ning in New Zealand since the 1990s but has never been more per­ti­nent. A grow­ing open­ness and un­der­stand­ing of men­tal health is­sues is un­doubt­edly a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment. The sense of per­sonal shame is di­min­ish­ing, al­though it has not gone com­pletely.

One of the most re­veal­ing ac­counts of men­tal health that ap­peared this week came from Na­tional MP Todd Muller, who talked about the is­sues that arose dur­ing his 53 days as leader of the Op­po­si­tion.

De­spite a high-fly­ing cor­po­rate ca­reer, Muller said he ex­pe­ri­enced anx­i­ety and panic at­tacks only af­ter he took over from pre­vi­ous leader Si­mon Bridges in May. It says much about the de­mand­ing na­ture of pol­i­tics that not even deal­ing with a bot­u­lism scare while hold­ing a se­nior role at Fon­terra was as stress­ful as lead­ing Na­tional.

Muller pointed to Sir John Kir­wan and Mike King, who took away ‘‘the per­ceived shame or re­luc­tance of talk­ing about it to peo­ple’’. Both Kir­wan and King have also led cam­paigns to raise aware­ness of men­tal health in the farm­ing com­mu­nity. On one of these mis­sions, King no­ticed that chil­dren as young as 11 were talk­ing about men­tal health con­cerns. He saw that new self­aware­ness as a pos­i­tive.

But aware­ness cam­paigns are only part of it. We also need to be con­fi­dent that sys­tems are work­ing and peo­ple can get help when they need it. This means that As­so­ci­a­tion of Salar­ied Med­i­cal Spe­cial­ists ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Sarah Dal­ton’s grim de­scrip­tion of a short­age of inpatient beds and psy­chi­a­trists lead­ing to a ‘‘per­fect storm’’ af­ter years of un­der­fund­ing is the worst news we could have heard dur­ing Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week.

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