The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound effect on all aspects of society. It has changed so much of what we took for granted and there is a high level of ongoing uncertainty.
As Australia has initiated a broad range of measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, mental health has emerged as an area of growing concern. The combination of increased isolation and a sudden change in people’s engagement in work and community clearly poses a real risk in managing individual mental health and well-being.
Painaustralia is particularly concerned about the health of people living with chronic pain who we know already face many difficulties in balancing their physical and mental health. Everyday millions of people battle with the physical, mental and emotional toll of chronic pain impacting every facet of their lives. Nearly 1.45 million people in pain also live with depression and anxiety.
Much of the evidence indicates that chronic pain does not exist in a vacuum, but has varied co-morbidities and far-reaching consequences. With the addition of a global pandemic that compounds and exacerbates these issues, the need for people living with chronic pain to focus on managing both their mental and physical health has never been greater.
In Australia a recent survey has revealed the negative impact the coronavirus lockdown is having on the mental health of ordinary Australians: one in four relationships under strain, one in two people feeling isolated and 57 per cent suffering stress.
This early research and the serious findings have compelled the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) to urge patients to talk to their GP if they have concerns about their mental health.
If this is the toll this pandemic is exacting from ordinary Australians, the cost for people living with chronic conditions who are uniquely vulnerable to this crisis, will be much higher indeed. Researchers from around the globe have highlighted the urgent need for research to address how mental health consequences for vulnerable groups can be mitigated under pandemic conditions, and on the impact of repeated media consumption and health messaging around COVID-19.
We are all in this together, but we are hearing from people living with chronic pain that are now confronting some particular struggles in coping with many of the restrictions impacting all aspects of our lives. While these are worrying times for all of us, especially people living with chronic pain, it is also the case that many people living with pain are used to confronting big challenges.
The key messages in addressing the mental health impact of COVID-19 are about encouraging people to reach out in new ways, make sure they are still connected to family, friends, work colleagues and community.
Thankfully, there has been a proliferation of support that has sprung up to help Australians through these trying times. There are now a number of useful resources and tools that are available online. Many of these resources provide practical tips for looking after your mental health. A few key resources are:
The head to health website is one example of this. The site places great importance on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, from staying active, to eating well to staying connected. Planning fun activities that provide a sense of achievement are also essential in one’s daily routine. The website also emphasises the need to stay connected by accessing support. The head to health website features a number of digital mental health resources and phone, chat and email links that provide a gateway to the mental health services available during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond Blue has useful mental health and support resources available. Not only are there practical information and strategies, but a number of ways to connect via an online community forum or through the available network of counsellors via phone by contacting 1800 512 348.
The Australian Psychological Society has three helpful information sheets on COVID-19 and mental health. The first provides tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety. It suggests limiting constant media exposure and instead, seeking out factual information from reliable sources such as the Australian government or organisations like the World Health Organisation. It also advises to keep things in perspective and take reasonable precautions. The second information sheet focuses on mental health during social isolation. The importance of connection and routine is highlighted. The third information sheet is specific to older Australians. The key message remains the importance of connection, meaning and seeking additional support.
Staying informed through trusted and credible sources and keeping a healthy and realistic outlook, is also important. There are some excellent evidence-based strategies to help you maintain well-being through this pandemic, including podcasts that provide a good source of information and support. In "The Happiness Lab" podcast, Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos takes listeners through the latest scientific research with a particular focus on COVID-19 in the latest episodes.
At Painaustralia we are regularly updating our homepage to help provide the latest and up to date information on COVID-19. Specifically, we are addressing the information that directly relates to chronic pain and questions or concerns of the chronic pain community. We are committed to providing important sources of information from specific consumer and advocacy groups and mental health organisations.
Please do feel free to contact us if you need more information or are looking for answers to specific questions.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, yet we also have an extraordinary opportunity to come together within communities to reduce the stigma that often surrounds chronic pain and mental health, as people everywhere find themselves living increasingly isolated lives. We hope that the chronic pain community will not only emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient, but also share their experiences with people around them to help them on their journey.