Last year’s Covid-19 lockdown could affect New Zealanders’ mental health for years to come and current demand for talking-based therapies is already overwhelming services, a University of Canterbury psychologist says.
Dr Neil Thompson is Director of the UC Psychology Centre, which offers assessment and treatment to students and members of the public. This is provided by trainee clinical psychologists under the supervision of qualified clinical psychologists.
He says there’s no doubt the pandemic and associated lockdowns have led to a rise in mental health problems, particularly anxiety and depression.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand for our services. We now have a six-month wait list and we’ve had to close our books to new clients,” Thompson stated. “The demand is huge because mental health needs have gone up since Covid.”
Fallout from this unprecedented event could last many years
New Zealand’s first Alert Level 4 lockdown, which began a year ago, confined most people to their homes and neighbourhoods to curb the spread of the virus.
Dr Thompson warned the fallout from this unprecedented event could last several more years.
“It’s going to be with us for a long time. We know from other national crises that there’s normally a delay before people present with associated problems. So, I think with Covid we are probably still in the early stages and we may well see a peak in need further down the line.”
All ages are affected by the profound shift in normal routines
Humans are social animals, he explained, and all age groups were affected by the sudden and profound shift in normal routines that happened last year.
“In tamariki (children), we’ve seen an increase in anxiety-related difficulties. School routine and social contact are such a big part of their lives and how they learn, so lockdown and home learning caused a lot of disruption for them.
“For taiohi, (young people) there’s been difficulty with their peers that stems from a dislocation from social groups which has had a negative impact on their mental health and development of their identity.”
Alcohol and substance abuse, plus eating disorders and anxiety
According to Thompson, in adults the problems tend to be anxiety and depression, along with alcohol and substance misuse. Early indications also point to an increase in eating disorders for children, adolescents and adults.
The change in habits, lack of structure and isolation from social contact during lockdown all put pressure on people’s wellbeing, he said.
Not being able to maintain exercise routines such as going to the gym, having disrupted sleep, and missing out on seeing friends and family all had a big impact. This was particularly true for people who already had a pre-existing mental health condition or were predisposed to developing one.