Long-lasting mental health impacts are being predicted on an unprecedented global scale

The mental health stressors experienced during the COVID-19 crisis are being compared to the experience of a natural disaster or economic depression. Researchers around the world are warning the psychological trauma from the pandemic will potentially lead to a generation with long-term mental health issues.

The Black Dog Institute reports estimates of between 25% to 33% of the community experiencing high levels of worry and anxiety during similar pandemics. Common consequences of disease outbreaks include anxiety and panic, depression, anger, confusion and uncertainty, and financial stress.

IHMRI’s Dr Natalie Matosin, researches trauma and mental illnesses including PTSD and depression. Dr Matosin says the combination of stress and uncertainty during the pandemic could trigger mental illness across large parts of the population.

“Fears about economic insecurity, isolation and concerns about the transmission and consequences of contracting COVID-19 are extreme stressors. More vulnerable members of the community could face mental health issues in the future which could exceed the consequences of the virus itself.”

Dr Matosin points to recently published Australian research that suggests that while physical distancing has been critical in slowing the Coronavirus curve, the economic impact and social isolation could have adverse effects for people with pre-existing mental health issues.

The research also suggests that for people living with mood disorders, there is a heightened prevalence of co-occurring medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease leading to further health concerns and medical needs.

“Disaster research indicates that up to 40% of people needing mental health support during or post a disaster have pre-existing psychiatric disorders or other chronic illnesses,” added Dr Matosin.

Dr Matosin’s research also looks at intergenerational trauma. She says more studies are needed to look at the long-term impact of people experiencing adverse psychological outcomes as a result of the pandemic.

“My research looks at how traumatic experiences can affect the body long-term and how that could be passed on to future next generations,” said Dr Matosin.

Dr Matosin supports Australian and international expert opinion that once the pandemic passes there will be a new wave of mental health disorders that could potentially impact generations to come.

“Trauma from large scale disasters or a pandemic like COVID-19 may not present immediately once the crisis ends, it could take months or years before the impact catches up with people. We need to turn our attention and efforts to planning how we manage and support those impacted in the community into the future.”

If you or someone you know needs help, you can get help from the following support services:

Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Line: 1800 512 348

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 659 467

Reach Out: ReachOut.com

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

m: 0417 044 867

e: louisenegline@ihmri.org.au

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