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Mental health services in Australia at ‘unprecedented’ levels of demand, officials say, revealing toll of lockdowns

The number of Australians seeking psychological help through emergency helplines during the coronavirus pandemic and the harsh lockdowns has grown sharply, health officials say. Mental health support organizations such as Lifeline and Beyond Blue have reported a 30% increase in calls since the virus started to spread, and authorities have been trying to stop it through lockdowns, the principal medical adviser and deputy chief medical officer with Australia’s health department, Michael Kidd, revealed this weekend.  

More Australians than ever before are reaching out for help and support,” he told local media. “For those experiencing lockdowns, this is a time of disruption and frustration for many, and a time of isolation and fear for others,” Kidd said.

The “concerning increase” is seen not only with regards to the helpline services, Australian media reports. The number of mental health-related prescriptions has also grown significantly, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

To deal with the impact of the pandemic and the strictly enforced lockdowns, earlier this month, the Australian government allocated extra funding for crisis lines and other mental health support services. In total, AU$74 million (US$52 million) extra has been invested in the mental health services since 2020.      

Pop-up mental health support sites have been established recently in areas facing extended Covid restrictions, such as New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria. Residents facing strict lockdowns “continue to experience high levels of distress and mental ill health,” the Health Ministry said, adding that the demand for support services has reached “unprecedented levels.”

The current outbreak is putting incredible stress and mental health pressure on many Australians,” the minister for health and aged care, Greg Hunt, said.

Australia’s continued lockdowns have not only driven people to call helplines – many have taken to the streets to protest the curfew orders and other pandemic-related restrictions. This weekend, protests attended by hundreds erupted in Sydney and Melbourne, as massive crowds decrying the ongoing lockdown measures clashed with police. On Friday, NSW police announced that an Australian man who helped organize one of the earlier protests was sentenced to the maximum of eight months in prison.

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