Mental Health and COVID-19

Federation Chamber 18/02/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (10:34): In 2020, I heard so many stories about the long-lasting mental health impacts of COVID-19 on the community: isolation, a feeling of being disconnected, and losing work and income. In Victoria this week we found ourselves thrown back into that same circumstance with a lockdown that, thankfully, ended last night. Victorians endured another five days of hard lockdown. It might seem to some of us in this chamber as just five days, but it’s so much more than that. It was another five days of anxiety and uncertainty of what was to come. It was five days that brought back memories for many of the three-month lockdown that we all endured last year. The recent five days showed us that we’re not anywhere near through the mental health crisis that’s upon us. People are still living through uncertainty, anxiety and frustration.

For young people especially, the pandemic has disrupted their lives at a pivotal moment across Australia, at the very time when they are transitioning to adulthood. Deciding what to study, searching for their first job and looking for an affordable home were all made so much harder by what we’ve gone through with the pandemic. There are a lot of question marks around important milestones and what’s possible for people in the coming years. Of course, the uncertainty around all of this doesn’t just vanish with a day or two of zero cases. There is a generation of young people, particularly young women, who have been disproportionately impacted—certainly in my electorate and I’m sure in other parts of Australia also—who have not only lost work or income but suffer the mental health impacts. I heard many stories from them during last year’s lockdown. Laura in Brunswick West said to me: ‘I have spent seven months watching my savings disappear, without a hint of when I will be permitted to return to work. I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep making ends meet.’ Bethany said, ‘I know five people who have recently committed suicide, and every single friend I have in my group of 20- to 25-year-olds is depressed and anxious and in a crisis mode.’ Another Wills local, an older resident who wanted to remain anonymous, wrote to me about her COVID experience, unable to see her kids or grandchildren, and the effect that it has had on her state of mind. These are just a few of the stories of people in my community in 2020, but there are so many more around Australia.

Despite the increase in funding from state and federal governments for mental health, we still need more. Services are overwhelmed and wait times for psychologists can be months. We have a duty to acknowledge the pain, not push it to one side. The short lockdown may be over, but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t hard, it doesn’t mean that people didn’t suffer and it doesn’t mean that people don’t need help going forward. Even though we are able to get back out there today in Victoria—back at work and back to the cafes, pubs and restaurants—it’s worth reaching out to your friends, your family and your loved ones. Check in with them and make sure you have those conversations. Let’s hope that this was our last lockdown and that lockdowns, no matter how short, remain the absolute last resort of governments.