Well, today marks two years since the first confirmed COVID case in Australia. And while there are promising signs that we've passed the Omicron peak in New South Wales and Victoria, the pandemic has taken a toll on many people's mental health. Another surge is expected as schools go back, and that's left some parents anxious about their children's well-being and a return to online learning.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine, joins me now. Morning to you. So two years on from Australia's first case - a significant milestone. How are people doing?
Look, in many ways I would say people are doing as well as they can and I applaud their resilience and their persistence. But it has to be said that for many, many people, the last two years have been very difficult. We've seen elevated levels of psychological distress, elevated levels of demand on mental health services. Of course, those with significant mental illness were- had also been more adversely affected and often couldn't get the services in the community that they needed. So we've seen a whole range of measures, I think, of people struggling with their mental health and reaching out for that.
And I think, as you just highlighted, we're now at the- nearly at the beginning of the school year and people are hoping, and indeed expecting, that our young people will be able to get back into the classroom with all of the benefits that flow from that, in terms of socialisation and engagement and learning with others. So, there is a lot going on. But I- Look, I think you mentioned that people are pretty wary of this, and people have coined the term: pandemic fatigue. Often with increased levels of irritability and, you know, impatience, and I think those basic things of trying to be kind to yourself, kind to others, trying to keep your sleep and exercise and diet and routine remain very critical.
Yeah, so let's talk through your tips for pandemic fatigue. Because we're at the stage where, for the most part, this is a very minor ailment if you get COVID nowadays. But we have people who are too scared to go back into the office, some who won't even go out.
That's true. I mean, people react in very different ways. One of the most critical things remains getting good information from reliable sources, and not, you know, looking everywhere for all the different sorts of information that are out there. So- and I think also, you know, look at the evidence that we have, and the evidence that we have, as you've just highlighted, that for most people, if they do get COVID now, it's mild. But for those who are unvaccinated or those who are- have other illnesses, it can be a much more significant - and indeed, even fatal - illness. So I- you know, I think some of those tips are about getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, doing the usual things, but also recognising just how important it is to stay engaged with your life. And when you are feeling trapped and stuck and you can't get there, to reach out for help, and there are lots of avenues for help now. The helplines have got increased capacity; the services there- new services- or not new now, but extra services in Sydney and Victoria that are being very well used.
Yes, there is help if you ask for it and look for it. Dr Ruth Vine, we thank you for your time today.
Thank you, thank you.