COVID-19 has not only raised fears around health, family and job security but rates of anxiety, depression, family violence, drug and alcohol problems and concerns of an increasing suicide rate that will continue in to the future, according to Ballarat Community Health chief executive Sean Duffy.
"The community should be deeply concerned about the effects ... which could sadly end more lives here than COVID itself," Mr Duffy said.
Since March, Ballarat Community Health has seen a big increase in domestic violence referrals, with a corresponding blow-out in their waiting list of up to four months.
"There's not quite enough evidence yet but we know people are starting to develop addictions like drug and alcohol ... because that's what they're using to cope. And we are deeply concerned that those who have lost their jobs or businesses in the commercial sector ... the ripple effect it will have on our group at risk of suicide.
"In three, six, nine or 12 months time when we see the social impact of the commerce sector and loss of jobs in the community ... unfortunately people will start to get to the point of desperation."
Mr Duffy said anxiety in the face of the unknowns of COVID-19 was normal, but it could become damaging and was particularly harmful for people already living with mental illness.
"It's quite understandable to have a degree of anxiety and it's quite normal that people would be concerned.
"We try to normalise things; so if you are not a little bit concerned about what's going on in the world and not concerned about financial wellbeing, jobs, family, then we'd be more concerned if you weren't worried about that to some level.
"But concern gets raised in a few areas where people have a predisposition to anxiety or depression or are susceptible to symptoms then it goes from usual worry or concern to a disorder or syndrome and anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts."
Mr Duffy said, with parts of Ballarat community already experiencing high levels of poverty and homelessness, the coronoavirus pandemic was likely to tip many in to crisis.
"It puts pressure on families so we have seen family violence referrals increase, we've seen people with drug and alcohol problems increase."
Mr Duffy said extra funding from the state government for domestic violence agencies was welcome but demand was high.
"We know people isolated in their own homes and subject to family violence, which not only impacts on their mental health but feeling of safety and security and ability to leave."
Mr Duffy said there many agencies offered phone support and other services that could act as a "bridge" before the family violence referral could be acted on.
"First and foremost, there's heaps the community can do. You don't have to be a trained mental health professional to help someone with a mental health issue," he said.
"A lot of the things we already do are helping - reach out to people who don't have a lot of support, those you think are socially isolated ... provide general emotional and wellbeing support."
Mr Duffy admitted it could be confusing and difficult for people in need to find services that could help, and said agencies could do better at advising what supports exist.
Increasing numbers of people working from home have also seen their mental health and sense of wellbeing and connectedness impacted over the past weeks.
"People are comfortable with what they're used to, so when change is forced upon them, such as having to work at home, they can find it difficult to adjust," said Ballarat psychologist Sam Luxemburg.
"We all need other people to associate with and be sociable with... humans are social animals.."
Mr Luxemburg said many people working from home were struggling to find a balance to separate their home and work lives.
"If you can set a room or part of a room where you do your work that is ideal. At the end of the day, closing off that workspace is the best thing to do so people can separate their home and work lives."
He said some people found using video calls and interacting with work colleagues online could help feelings of loneliness and isolation, but everyone responded differently.
"This isn't just affecting people working from home, it's affecting everyone who is being limited from seeing their family and friends during this time."
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. The key message is you are not alone.
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
- Mensline: 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au
- Survivors of Suicide: 0449 913 535
- Relationships Australia: 1800 050 321
- headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
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