Psychological distress linked to COVID-19

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The frequency of suicide in Victoria didn’t change with the onset of COVID-19, however, the pandemic could be a major background stressor: study reveals

While COVID-19 is not linked to an increase in suicides to date, the authors of a new Australian study said it can “erode one’s wellbeing, sense of agency and connectedness to others, making it an underlying stressor”.

The mixed method study looked at suicide cases in Victoria between 1 January 2015 to 31 January 2021 to identify whether suicide rates changed following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However healthcare clinicians, including pharmacists, could use these findings as a basis for making appropriate interventions to help reduce individual’s psychological distress, the authors said.

As of 1 March 2021, Victoria was the state most impacted by the pandemic; it accounted for 70.7% of Australia’s COVID-19 cases and 90.2% of the country’s COVID-19 related deaths.

Victorians faced longer periods of harsh restrictions, including two significant lockdowns, than any other state at the time. As a result, insights into the possible link between COVID-19 and suicide could assist prevention strategies across the whole of Australia.

Three key themes that emerged from the study were that individual’s sense of self was disturbed by the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, loss of social activities negatively impacted family and social relationships, and individuals were either forced to interact with unfamiliar institutions or their patterns of interaction were disrupted (for example, facing difficulties accessing healthcare, working from home or becoming newly unemployed).

The authors said: “Appropriate interventions for clinicians to consider are those that serve in a practical sense to reconnect people with a sense of agency and with other people. These might include advocacy for family visits.”

They also said it would be useful for clinicians to stay up to date with welfare, housing and employment services in their local area, as well as referral pathways to services that can support patients who may be experiencing stress related to COVID-19.

The research was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

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