Since the first COVID-19 cases in Australia were announced in January this year much has been written about the broad health impacts on those who’ve contracted the virus, particularly for the most vulnerable amongst us.
At this week’s Australian Public Health Conference, experts spoke of the secondary health impact and how Australians who may not have been directly impacted by COVID have coped.
Clinical psychologist, Dr Tegan Podubinski, spoke of how the pandemic had impacted the mental health of the Australian workforce, using data from a recent University of Melbourne survey on mental health and wellbeing.
That survey showed 19 per cent of the workforce were suffering increased levels of depression, 17 per cent felt greater stress, and 14 per cent were feeling greater anxiety since the COVID crisis began.
Dr Podubinski said there was also clear evidence that people with a pre-existing condition were most severely impacted, together with those who had been through one or more previous disasters, having had a lived experience.
‘The survey found these two groups of people were prone to having higher levels of psychological impact,’ she said. ‘People living in rural areas which have greater numbers of disasters are also at a higher risk.’
Dr Podubinski said workplaces needed to be alert to those who are most vulnerable and managers should ensure appropriate levels of support for those who are impacted.
Senior Research Fellow at Tasmania’s Centre for Global Health and Equity, Dr Shandell Elmer, presented the results of a survey into the worries, feelings and experiences of people living through the pandemic.
There was a focus on the impacts of people living in isolation and having limited daily contact with others.
Feedback from those who felt the experience had been positive included: ‘Great. Love it. Peace’, and ‘I’m enjoying it’ and ‘feeling a reasonable sense of equilibrium today’.
Others felt more negative: ‘…it was very lonely, especially no touching with family or being shunned by them’ and ‘go to work, go home, go to bed, repeat’.
Dr Elmer said it was important to use the insights from the negative and positive experiences to frame messaging to support individuals to take action and avoid approaches that amplify worries.
Dr Vivienne Milch, who is Medical Director at Cancer Australia, presented on cancer care in the time of COVID-19.
Dr Milch discussed the challenges facing cancer patients as the pandemic passed through its various phases and the importance of ensuring ongoing optimal care.
Cancer Australia has developed a detailed best practice framework to support cancer patient treatment and care at all stages.
She said this framework’s principles would be transferrable for any future pandemic or disaster.