Mental health in a pandemic: How income loss and isolation is fracturing our resilience

Are you feeling a bit wobbly? Mental health issues are tipped to surge due to the coronavirus pandemic. Not just for now, long into the future, too. 

In recognition, the Australian federal government recently provided an additional $48.1 million to support the Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan, which builds on their existing support package for mental health and suicide prevention. 

In this article, we look at the link between financial stress and mental health and share a few tips and resources to help you get the support you may need.

The link between financial stress and mental health issues

Studies have shown significant links between unemployment or financial stress and mental health conditions. Consider then, that the consequences of sudden income loss would be housing instability and, without government or industry support, an inability to afford utilities and bare necessities, like food. The pandemic, and its financial disruption, has for some taken away our most basic, physiological needs.

Additionally, new studies are underway to measure the impact that social isolation is having on our health and wellbeing, because we’ve also lost physical access to our support network during these difficult times. 

Cup of resilience, anyone? 

We’ve actually experienced a quadrupling of risk factors… and then some.

Generally, life will throw us a curve ball and we may or may not freak out, but with every minor stressor, the stress and its lesson usually help make our resilience muscle stronger for the next time. 

But with COVID-19? 

We’re looking at:

  • job loss (and even dual income loss)
  • workplace stress (e.g. more online meetings, same demands but less hours to manage)
  • working from home without adequate systems stress
  • parenting stress
  • loss and grief (imagine losing a loved one but not being able to attend a funeral or visit them in hospital?)
  • social isolation, and even
  • family violence. 

Then add to all this organic stress, the additional stress we placed on ourselves by following the anxiety-fuelling 24/7 media coverage. That’s a lot of stress and emotions and fear to manage! 

If you’re feeling a bit wobbly, that’s OK. It is OK to not feel OK. But please take care of yourself and your loved ones and access the support available to you. 

Where to get help to manage anxiety

Lifeline provides several useful resources to help us take care of ourselves and our loved ones during difficult times. To help us manage during coronavirus, they suggest:

Managing your exposure to media coverage

While it’s important we can access reliable and accurate information, be mindful not to over-expose yourself and get caught up in the fear. You could try limiting your access to news, for example, by only doing it at the end of the day or for the time it takes to eat your breakfast. 

Following a ‘calm yet cautious’ approach

Stay informed and follow the advice of medical professionals. Resist temptation to panic. 

Showing compassion and kindness to each other

Kindness is contagious. When you do good deeds, you not only make the receiver feel better, but your body responds by firing out a lot of feel good chemicals that lift your spirits, too. 

Actively managing your wellbeing

Maintain old routines where it’s possible and try to connect with friends and family. Practice mindfulness with an app, Zen to your favourite music, dance, sing, paint! 

We’ve been lucky in Australia to have always been permitted to exercise outside, so aim for time in nature where possible. And of course, eat nutritious foods and consume any alcohol in moderation.

Talk to a professional

One of the most beneficial sources of help for treating anxiety or other mental health issues is a qualified mental health professional. You might feel better ‘shopping around’ for the right fit just as Goldilocks did, because for the sake of your recovery, it’s important you trust and feel comfortable with your care provider. 

You can find professional support here:

  • Beyondblue
  • Lifeline
  • Contact your GP to discuss a Mental Health Plan referral. The Australian government also introduced Medicare funded telehealth services that include mental health support you can access from your home.