The Invisible War’s Lasting Legacy
WORDS: Genevieve Colling- Oasis Mind Body www.oasismindbody.com PHOTOGRAPHY Lifestyle Photography Shifaaz Shamoon @unsplash.com
The pandemic has changed our lives forever, it’s a war that our bodies have fought – and our mental health has been collateral damage
It’s early evening on Wednesday 11th March 2020 as the wheels of QF64 touch down in Sydney after spending a magical few weeks in Africa for my best friend’s wedding. With not a seat to spare from tip to tail, the entire plane appeared to join in a collective sense of relief after landing, as each passenger quickly and quietly collected their items to disembark. A very subdued feel yet with an air of urgency, different to most other international flights and with reasonable cause. That day was the last before the World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) a worldwide Global Pandemic.
Since then, we have all experienced unique and challenging times with the world as we knew it effectively changing overnight. Countries closed borders, lockdowns came into place, industries had to pivot, some companies collapsed and individually we were restricted in terms of movement locally and globally. We became even more tech-based and quickly learned how to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other video-based apps to conduct meetings, to have virtual catch-ups and even attend medical appointments via telehealth. Then there was the Covid-19 virus itself which became much like an unknown enemy in an invisible war we had all involuntarily entered, in an unknown battleground.
Covid-19 has had and continues to have, a significant impact on each of our lives. Economically there were significant job losses, reduced hours, suspended pay, and delays in promotions, benefits and bonuses. Socially we were physically and emotionally separated from friends, family and colleagues – all of whom are critical elements in feeling a sense of community, belonging and support. Health-wise we were struggling with the comprehension that this new invisible virus could have devastating and deadly effects, while we also dealt with the isolation and loneliness that restrictions of varying degrees across each state, territory and foreign country were having on us. News reports and Governments were updating us regularly on the ongoing Global Pandemic, latest outbreaks, new variants and the effects on population numbers, the economy and likely recovery. We also became very familiar with the term epidemiologist.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, when our national lockdown came into effect Lifeline, Beyond Blue and Kids Helpline saw significant uplift in the number of their calls. Mental health-related PBS prescriptions (Government subsidised) peaked with 107 million being dispensed, an increase of 12% compared to 2019. Mental health related services are still 11% higher than before the pandemic. Despite these figures showing the impact of Covid, this does not account for all the phone calls placed to friends, families, colleagues or loved ones seeking support and coping mechanisms. This also does not account for all the non-Medicare or mental health services and prescriptions that were delivered through private health, private doctors or other means.
The past few years have had an adverse effect on our individual and collective psychology in so many ways. Research conducted during the Covid-19 response globally shows the substantial mental health and psychological impact of both the global lockdowns and the virus itself. A study by Yildirim et al. (2020) showed that “Covid-19 worry” predicts a lessened resilience and meaning in life, while positively predicting mental health disorders. Other studies show that those who have had Covid-19 are 43% more likely to develop mental health disorders (Xu et al., 2022). A recent study in Australia reviewed over 6,000 international papers, the first of its kind to understand the longitudinal impact of Covid-19; it found there was a heightened degree of mental health following Covid-19, including psychological stress up 44.2% (Bower et al., 2023).
Regardless of our individual circumstances, the Covid-19 pandemic and all that came with it presented a unique challenge that forced us to re-evaluate our lives. Now, three years since Covid-19 shut down the world, Long Covid and Covid-related mental health continue to be highly researched areas. The term ‘Long Covid’ can present differently in each person with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found that depression, anxiety, perceived stress, worry and loneliness (common mental health concerns) increase the risk of Long Covid (Wang et al., 2022), thus demonstrating that Covid-19 is not immune to being impacted by the significant interplay between mind and body.
Despite the negativity of lockdowns, vaccine mandates, restricted local and international movement, financial and emotional distress, job losses and organisational difficulties, many people were forced to reconsider their lives and indeed found more suitable work, lifestyle or location. New businesses were created, while some existing businesses thrived.
If there is one thing we can learn, it is that our mental health is of critical importance and can no longer be sidelined. Our mental health needs urgent attention. This is not something that we should expect someone else to do, be that a professional, a government, or anyone else. We, each of us individually, need to start taking responsibility. We must learn to understand our own mind, its strengths and limitations, acknowledging we are all different — and some of us may require professional support in this process. Developing our own tool kit of resources to use as required is critical to restoring and maintaining our mental health in a post-pandemic world that has been forever changed.
Genevieve is a registered Psychologist and founder of Oasis Mind Body. Visit: www.oasismindbody.com
You can find out more at www.oasismindbody.com or via Socials @oasismindbody