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Number of People Accessing Mental Health Services Has Surged During Lockdown

Kiwis are already turning to online mental health services to cope with lockdown, said Charlie David, general manager of online mental health charity Just a Thought.

Daily registrations had doubled in the first two days of lockdown for Just a Thought's online courses aimed at helping people experiencing anxiety and low mood.

This mirrored new research that showed a whopping 630 percent increase in people accessing its courses, and a 185 percent increase in people signing up for help with anxiety and depression, during New Zealand’s first extended lockdown in 2020 - in a study published by Just a Thought and the Australian tool This Way UP.

‘It's normal to feel stress and anxiety during Covid alert levels,’ said clinical lead Anna Elders. ‘It’s a time of real uncertainty for people, and our brains struggle to adjust to all the changes in routine and the necessary restrictions.

‘When we're faced with any situation that carries a sense of uncertainty and risk, we feel anxious and begin to experience the different symptoms of the fight-or-flight response. Delta certainly presents a greater set of challenges for us, so it’s normal for people to experience higher levels of anxiety at this time.

‘Anxiety can be a good thing if it helps to motivate us to reduce the danger we’re facing. As a nation, we’ve been really good at cooperating, staying at home and locking down, to overcome the Covid threat.

‘But the fight-or-flight response also creates heightened distress and anxiety. We experience higher levels of stress than usual and can feel less able to cope,’ added Ms Elders. ‘Then there are the real challenges like having the kids home all the time or losing income. Or, if you live alone, it’s very normal to experience lower moods when you're having less contact with others.’

Ms Elders believed the surge in people seeking help with mental health was good news. ‘It means New Zealanders are wanting to look after themselves and are really changing the mental health conversation. We all need skills to manage stress, anxiety and low mood - because those are things we all go through. I think Kiwis now know that we need to look after our mental health, just like we do our physical health. And that’s even more important in lockdown.’

In just under two years since launching, over 30,000 Kiwis had registered for Just a Thought’s free therapeutic courses.

In response to the Alert Level Four Just a Thought will launch a new free course to teach skills for people dealing with mixed anxiety and depression. ‘People don't necessarily fit into boxes when it comes to mental health,’ said Mr David. ‘This course is such a useful tool for anyone during lockdown because you get the same skills as seeing a therapist face-to-face - but it’s free, there are no waiting lists, and you can do it from home.’

For the full Covid Mental Health Research Report go to: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2021.100439

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