EXPLAINER

COVID-19 Delta variant lockdowns lead to Lifeline call surge

Lifeline has reported a surge in calls off the back of new lockdowns in several states and territories. Picture: Shutterstock

Lifeline has reported a surge in calls off the back of new lockdowns in several states and territories. Picture: Shutterstock

Fresh lockdowns and new Covid outbreaks across Australia have led to calls to crisis-line services skyrocketing, even compared to the record highs experienced during the beginning of the pandemic.

In the period between the beginning of May and the end of June, the number of calls made to Lifeline rose in nearly every jurisdiction, some increasing by as much as 50 per cent, compared to calls made during the same two months in 2020.

It comes as the mental health support service said call volumes may never return to the levels that were experienced before the start of the pandemic and the Black Summer bushfires.

A spokesman for Lifeline said there had been sharp rise in the number of calls made to the organisation when new Covid restrictions or lockdowns were announced.

"At the jurisdiction level, we are seeing an increase in demand over recent days for both Victoria, and in particular NSW," the spokesman said.

"Volatility is linked to crisis or disaster events unfolding over time.

"We have seen a keen step up in demand, coinciding with the recent lockdowns in many jurisdictions."

Figures from Lifeline revealed calls in the two-month period jumped more than 20 per cent in the ACT, 35 per cent in SA, while the NT recorded a spike of 53 per cent, compared to the same time in 2020.

NSW also registered a slight rise of almost 6 per cent in the period from May to the end of June, while WA also had a jump of 4 per cent in calls.

However, calls to the crisis line in Tasmania fell by nearly 48 per cent, while Victoria had a small drop of less than 1 per cent, following on from its large spike in calls during the beginning of its lockdown in the middle of 2020.

Call figures were even more stark when the two-month data from 2021 was compared with the same period in 2019, before the outbreak of Covid.

Nationally, there there were 173,228 calls made in May and June 2021, an 18 per cent rise from the 146,416 calls to the service in 2019.

The compounding trauma of bushfire, and then pandemic, have generated trauma within the community that is sustained, and will unfold across years, not months.

Lifeline spokesman

All state and territories, with the exception of Tasmania and Queensland, saw a spike in calls in 2021 when contrasted with 2019 figures.

The Lifeline spokesman said the the impact of Covid and city-wide lockdowns were still having large effects on people's mental health.

"Lifeline is not forecasting a return to the demand patterns that predate the 2019-20 bushfires," the spokesman said.

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"The compounding trauma of bushfire, and then pandemic, have generated trauma within the community that is sustained, and will unfold across years, not months.

"Lockdowns increase demand for crisis support and suicide prevention."

Crisis lines have been experiencing large surges in demand throughout the pandemic, fuelled by global uncertainty and rising case numbers as well extended periods in lockdown in some parts of the country.

During the early stages of the Covid outbreak in March 2020, nearly one in four calls made to Lifeline were due to the pandemic.

Figures released during that time showed a 67 per cent rise in calls to Beyond Blue, while Kids Helpline and Lifeline all had increases of 61 and 40 per cent respectively during the height of Victoria's lockdown.

Mental Health Foundation ACT chief executive Angie Ingram said the continued surge in calls to support services was not surprising. "Life is different now and not as predictable as it was, and there's a lot of unseen stresses at the moment, and this will continue into the future," she said.

"There has also been a profound shift and people are more aware of their mental health and saying that they need help.

"It's not going to go back to what it was before."

Where are the lockdowns?

The Delta variant has led to a surge in new Covid cases in several states and territories across the country, forcing many to return to lockdowns.

Millions of people in NSW are entering into the second week of lockdown, following multiple cases in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, which then spread into other areas of the city.

The lockdown, which extends to all of metropolitan Sydney, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour areas, is set to end at midnight on July 9.

Despite multiple cases of Covid being recorded in NSW, health officials in the state have yet to indicate whether the lockdown would end at the conclusion of its two weeks, or be extended further.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said at a press conference on Friday that she would not comment on whether the lockdown would be extended or not.

There were 16 new cases of Covid recorded in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday, of which three were out in the community during some or all of their infectious period.

The state's Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Sunday while numbers were lower compared to previous days, there was still cause for concern. "We know that [the numbers] still have a potential to bounce around, and we still know that the next few days are absolutely critical," she said.

The Covid outbreak in Sydney led to the virus spreading to other states and territories, triggering lockdowns in Perth, Darwin, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Townsville, Magnetic Island and Palm Islands.

Despite Queensland recording new cases of Covid, the lockdown in Brisbane was lifted on Saturday night after it was extended for one day.

While the short, circuit-breaker lockdowns have ended in other states with the exception of NSW, health officials are still on alert for new cases.

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This story Lockdowns lead to crisis line call surge first appeared on The Canberra Times.