Telehealth service, InstantScripts has revealed a spike in requests for mental-health related consultations and prescriptions since the start of the current lockdowns in NSW and Victoria.
Through its latest patient data, the service which provides alternative primary healthcare options to those who have difficulty accessing a doctor due to cost, location or residency status has revealed the regions whose residents’ mental health have been impacted most by lockdowns.
In regional NSW, mental health consultations have risen by 75 per cent in the lockdown so far, compared with the same period last year, while more residents across Victoria and NSW are seeking mental health prescriptions.
Dr Andrew Thompson, a registered doctor at InstantScripts, says that since the start of the lockdowns this winter, mental health presentations are the second most common reason for patients seeking telehealth services, after respiratory infections.
In NSW, more regional residents have been struggling with their mental health than in Sydney: 53 per cent more patients in regional NSW are seeking antidepressant prescriptions from 25 June to end of August this year.
“Unfortunately, we’ve started seeing more Aussies in rural, isolated areas across NSW and Victoria presenting with mental health symptoms, such as symptoms of depression. These areas have fewer GPs, and wait lists to them are blown out, while travel restrictions have forced people to remain isolated in their homes, risking worsening symptoms. While some areas of regional NSW will be coming out of lockdown early, many residents in other communities will continue struggling to cope without access to proper care,” say Dr Thompson.
While patients in Sydney appear to be coping well, or seeking other services to address mental health concerns, InstantScripts found that antidepressant medication requests have increased considerably. In Sydney, residents seeking antidepressants have risen by 24 per cent since 25 June (compared last year’s winter months), while the same prescription requests from Victorian patients have increased by 29 per cent since the state’s fifth lockdown on 15 July.
Nationally, there has been an increase in Aussies seeking antidepressant medication. This year, InstantScripts saw an 82 per cent increase in requests on 2020.
Dr Thompson says the lockdowns have clearly had a devastating impact on many Aussies and the effects will continue to be felt long after restrictions ease. “The isolation, disconnect, financial hardship and relationship problems that Aussies are experiencing during this period is incredibly disheartening and has likely brought symptoms to the surface that wouldn’t be experienced under normal circumstances. In fact, many of my patients are showing first-time presentations for mental health disorders, while I’ve also seen a surge in patients who have been left without antidepressants for days because they are unable to visit a GP.
“The promising silver lining amid this debilitating period is that many Aussies are seeking help. Often the most challenging first step is admitting when we are struggling, and while I remain concerned by the number of patients I’m seeing with mental health concerns, they’re willingness to seek services such as ours shows an incredible amount of strength, self-awareness and desire to face issues head-on. However, it remains more important than ever for Aussies who are struggling with their mental health during lockdown that haven’t sought help to take the necessary steps forward in addressing their concerns.”
Dr Thompson adds: “Aussies can regularly check in with themselves to identify potential signs that they are struggling to cope. Common signs can include feelings of anxiety or depression, sleep problems, rapid weight loss or gain, fatigue, lack of motivation, a sudden disconnect from loved ones and friends, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness.”
Dr Thompson shares the options available to Aussies struggling with their mental health, particularly during lockdown.
- Telehealth services. Dr Thompson says turning to telehealth services is one of the important first steps to tackling mental health issues, as it can give Aussies the confidence to see a doctor for health advice. “Many of the patients I see are hesitant to see a GP and find that speaking to a doctor on the phone is less daunting. Telehealth services can provide advice and reassurance through talking therapies, and GPs through most telehealth services can create a mental health plan.”
- Strategies to help cope and reduce anxiety and stress. Dr Thompson says it is important for people to identify strategies and activities that will help alleviate stress and anxiety during tough periods. They could examine the activities and habits that bring a sense of positivity and calm. If they enjoy exercising, ensuring they maintain physical activity is important. During particularly stressful periods, a walk, run or yoga flow can help. Cooking, reading a book or listening to music to relieve stress can also help.
- A support network to turn to during tough periods. While many Aussies are physically isolated from family and friends, there are opportunities to stay socially connected and turn to them for support. Dr Thompson suggests people could build a support network with those they feel most comfortable opening up to and seek them out for regular check-ins. This can involve scheduling phone or video calls, which can be conducted in a quiet space in the home or while heading outside for a walk. Dr Thompson adds, “If they live in close proximity to their support network, Aussies can take advantage of the singles bubble or schedule regular walks together.”
- Mental health services. Dr Thompson says Aussies that are struggling shouldn’t hesitate to speak to their GP, if they feel confident doing so. While telehealth services can help many Aussies, a GP can also provide a mental health plan with detailed tools and coping strategies. For Aussies who aren’t comfortable speaking with a GP, there are several mental health services that offer round-the-clock support, such as BeyondBlue (1300 22 46 36) and Lifeline (13 11 14), while organisations such as Black Dog Institute frequently share helpful resources and advice.
- Allied health. Dr Thompson says there are many allied health professionals that can also help Aussies combat mental health problems. Psychologists and occupational therapists have a breadth of knowledge and can share strategies to help manage mental health symptoms. “Physiotherapy is also a great option for those experiencing mental health symptoms or who aren’t comfortable seeking a mental health professional. Physiotherapists can relieve physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, which can reduce pain, improve energy levels and sleep patterns, as well as one’s overall mood. They can also provide exercises and identify short term, achievable goals, to help maintain good physical and mental health.”