Lockdowns increase isolation by their very design. Regular routines are broken, and family and friendship networks are disrupted. As the weeks drag on, the risk to mental health becomes immense. Lifeline Australia has recently seen an increase in calls of more than 30 per cent across the nation, recording the highest number of calls in their 58-year history. In my region alone, Lifeline Macarthur and Western Sydney answered over 11,000 calls in July. Prior to the pandemic, suicide was the leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 24 years in south-west Sydney. Despite this, South Western Sydney Local Health District had the least number of specialist mental health staff in Sydney.
Unsurprisingly the lockdown has led to high levels of distress in my community. We are shaken by COVID deaths and suicides. I have no doubt that we'll put the outbreak behind us, but when the cases come down and the testing clinics close and the media moves on, we need to make sure that the effects on our mental health do not linger for months and years to come. We need sustained funding for mental health, especially for vulnerable, multicultural and youth communities. Let's not let a viral pandemic lead to a mental health epidemic as well.