Lifeline crisis hotline calls surge over COVID-19 fears

Almost one in four calls made to mental health support lines in recent days were made due to coronavirus, new figures reveal.

Lifeline said 23 per cent of all calls made to the crisis line over the weekend were due to fears over COVID-19.

The service said it expected the large number of calls to continue into the weeks and potentially months ahead, as social isolation measures and bans on mass gatherings continue.

Head of crisis services Rachel Bowes said there was unease for many in the community as daily life changed.

"There's been a lot of angst about coronavirus," she said.

"The call numbers have been very consistent for a week or so, and it became clear over a period of time it was a driver for all the volumes of calls we were seeing.

"The calls have either been prompted by coronavirus or anxiety about coronavirus being a contributing factor."

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The call spike comes after Lifeline experienced a surge from December due to anxiety and concern over the country's bushfire crisis.

Lifeline said there was a consistent uplift in call volumes since the bushfires, which reached more than 500 additional calls made every day at its peak.

Ms Bowes said that the spike had continued well after the bushfire crisis had abated, largely due to coronavirus.

"We saw during the bushfires where people were feeling a loss for normal life, and in the same way, there are similar themes with coronavirus," she said.

"People are worrying about being isolated and reduced contact with people and the loss of connections and anchors in people's lives that keep people stable."

While Lifeline said a spike in calls was common after natural disasters or major incidents or the death of celebrities, the start of 2020 was the first time there had been such a sustained increase in calls.

Ms Bowes said the situation was expected to worsen in coming weeks, as the virus showed no sign of slowing down and people's routines continued to be upended.

"The longer it goes on, the harder it will be for people to deal with that," she said.

"We expect we'll see a lot more calls related to coronavirus as time goes on.

"We'll continue to hear the consequences of extended periods of isolation or changes in day-to-day living arrangements.

"It's going to be challenging for people to adapt to a changing world."

Ms Bowes recommended those feeling anxious about coronavirus to reach out to social networks.

"Doing activities together is harder because of social distancing, but you can do small things like watch the same TV show together at the same time at differently locations or connect in a group chat," she said.

"It can be hard to step away [from watching the news or reading about coronavirus], but encourage people to give themselves a break from it so it doesn't exacerbate worries."

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