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Reducing distress in the community following the COVID-19 pandemic

Report offers solutions to address emerging areas of suicide risk following COVID-19

Suicide Prevention Australia and Wesley Mission are calling on government to provide increased support to Australians experiencing distress following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled Reducing distress in the community following the COVID-19 pandemic, the new white paper highlights broader social and economic factors causing distress in the community: stepping away from a mental health specific approach.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique health crisis and one that has touched the lives of thousands directly affected by the virus, as well as their loved ones”, said Nieves Murray, CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia.

“As a nation, we also need to recognise the impact of COVID-19 extends to millions of others in our community, many of who have lost their jobs, been isolated from their social networks and – perhaps for the first time – are struggling with their wellbeing.

“Our report shows that people are experiencing distress due to being out of work, being homeless, lonely or through a drug or alcohol problem. These life circumstances can leave people vulnerable to distress and suicidality,” said Ms Murray.

The paper recommends a whole of government, whole of community approach to tackle these secondary impacts of the crisis which are being felt across Australia.

Wesley Mission CEO, the Rev Keith V Garner AM said, “Addressing this crisis will require a sustained, collaborative effort to protect Australian lives. Particularly for those people who, after months of increased isolation or having depleted their available resources, will find themselves in crisis.

“We need to engage governments and communities to make their vital contributions. Australia’s response to the pandemic so far shows the success a joined-up approach can have.”

The paper calls for additional research and screening for at-risk groups along with suicide prevention training for frontline personnel to be able to intervene.

Both groups acknowledge that many of the measures introduced by the government during the crisis have helped limit distress levels in the community to date.

Ms Murray believes that JobKeeper as a protective measure should be extended past September, particularly for industries that will continue to feel the impact of COVID-19.

“Only last week we saw a national airline announce a major restructure off the back of COVID-19. The impacts of the shutdown won’t stop in September, and they’ll continue to be felt for many years,” she said.

“Industries including entertainment, arts, recreation and aviation need a guarantee of support to ensure that they are able to continue operating.”

Mr Garner believes that it is time to change the conversation about suicide following COVID-19.

“Our 114 suicide prevention networks across Australia have reported a strong negative impact to people’s wellbeing from unemployment and increasing concerns for finances. Both are well-established risk factors for suicide and were identified by our networks located in cities, regional and remote areas alike.

“We have all been affected to some degree, but it is those who are most vulnerable in our country who are hardest hit and will experience the negative impacts of this crisis long after the majority of our society has recovered.”

Reducing distress in the community following the COVID-19 pandemic provides a roadmap of proposals to address the ongoing needs of people during and after the pandemic response measures.

Key recommendations include:

1. Increase the base rate of JobSeeker (NewStart) and extend JobKeeper past September.

2. Build domestic and family violence workforce capacity to screen for mental health issues and suicide risk.

3. Invest in mental health screening and a model of care for retirement villages.

4. Deliver a national survey into the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of Australians.

5. Fund screening and tailored suicide prevention training for frontline hospital staff faced with alcohol and other drug issues.

6. Extend the moratorium on evictions and address long-term housing and accommodation needs through the recovery phase of COVID-19.

7. Promote fact-based sources of information on COVID-19.

You can read the full white paper here.