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COVID-19: Managing mental health and substance use in challenging times

Our response to the novel coronavirus

We are working actively with state and federal governments, foundations and other groups to identify a strong and effective response to the mental health impacts of coronavirus.

For official updates on COVID-19, please visit health.gov.au.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians with many experiencing feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and panic. It is important for you to look after your mental health and wellbeing during these difficult times.

The Matilda Centre is working actively with the state and federal governments, foundations and other groups to identify a strong and effective response to the mental health impacts of coronavirus.

Maree Teesson Masterclass: Coping with mental health issues during COVID-19

Practical tips for coping

The COVID-19 pandemic can have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians with many experiencing feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and panic. It is important for you to look after your mental health and wellbeing during these difficult times.

Acknowledge how you are feeling

It’s natural that we are feeling anxious, stressed or sad at this time. Sometimes it helps to talk about it, sometimes it helps to have a cry. We should also cut ourselves some slack – we may be less productive than we normally are, it’s going to take some time to adjust.

Connect with others

We need to connect. Remember that you can be physically distant but stay socially connected.

Engage in active (not avoidant) coping

This means working within the situation, uncertain and challenging as it is, to look after ourselves and others. Check in with others, just listening to how they are feeling goes a long way. Helping our own mental health through exercise, sleep and healthy eating. Finding ways to have fun.

Find alternatives

At the moment, we need to think outside the box and find creative alternative ways to socialise, exercise and have fun. We can motivate each other by sharing newly discovered options and ways to virtually connect. 

Switch off sometimes

In a time of uncertainty like this, we can find ourselves experiencing information overload. We need to switch off sometimes and take time out from thinking or hearing about COVID-19.

Reach out

Reach out for help and encourage others in our networks to reach out. There are also many online resources for learning anxiety coping strategies to help prevent it snowballing.

COVID-19 research

A longitudinal, mixed-methods study investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health and substance use of Australians, with a focus on the social determinants of mental health, including the role of:

  • housing
  • social networks
  • community and neighbourhood
  • trauma
  • employment and income, and
  • past life experiences.

Contact Dr Marlee Bower at marlee.bower@sydney.edu.au for more information.

This research study aims to understand the impacts on health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Matt Sunderland provided expert advice on mental wellbeing questions included in the survey.

Contact Westmead Applied Research Centre at warc.info@sydney.edu.au for more information.

A survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Professor Maree Teesson, Associate Professor Cath Chapman and Associate Professor Tim Slade provided expert advice on emotional and mental wellbeing questions included in the survey.

View findings at abs.gov.au.

Many of our existing projects have been updated to incorporate events such as the 2019-2020 bushfires and COVID-19 global pandemic. See our projects to the full list of our current projects.

COVID-19 initiatives

As a show of support, we are offering Australian schools FREE access to the Climate Schools program.

Climate Schools is an e-learning mental health and drug education program that is:

  • aligned with the Australian curriculum for years 8-10
  • fully accessible via computer, tablet or smartphone, and
  • designed so it can be delivered online as schools move to virtual classrooms.

The strength-based online modules cover important skills including:

  • communication
  • self-awareness
  • emotion and stress management
  • decision-making
  • problem-solving, and
  • help-seeking.

Teachers can monitor student progress remotely and share parent summaries to keep parents in the loop if they’re supervising home-based learning.  

The program has demonstrated effectiveness in:

  • reducing substance use and related harms
  • reducing psychological distress
  • slowing the progression of anxiety
  • increasing knowledge of mental health, and
  • increasing knowledge of alcohol and other drugs.

Register your school to receive FREE access to this curriculum aligned, evidence-based program.

With additional funding from the Australian Government Department of Health we will be making enhancements to the Cracks in the Ice and Positive Choices portals to target Australians impacted by isolation measures.

Cracks in the Ice will be developing online support for families and friends caring for loved ones affected by crystal methamphetamine, particularly those living in rural and remote areas.  

Positive Choices will be tailoring resources to help parents and teachers deliver online drug and alcohol prevention messages to students.  

Read more about this funding announcement at health.gov.au.

We are proud to be leading Australia's first mental health think tank, chaired by our very own Professor Maree Teesson AC. This think tank has been made possible thanks to the support of the BHP Foundation's Australia Country Program.

Read more about the think tank, the funding behind it and key experts involved in the initial stage in News & opinion.

A joint initiative led by the Matilda Centre, the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Prevention and Early Intervention of Mental Illness and Substance Use (PREMISE) at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University.

We are adapting our existing research studies to collect vital information about COVID-19 (and other recent national events, eg bushfires) to examine the impact of these on the mental health and substance use behaviour of Australians. We are also aiming to track and share research being undertaken on COVID-19 and mental health by Australian researchers. Participants are researchers at the Matilda Centre, our PREMISE partnering institutions and other collaborators. This is a targeted project to help facilitate collaboration among our research partners. We have established an Open Science Framework (OSF) page to facilitate wider sharing if this information.

For more information please contact Dr Matt Sunderland, Senior Research Fellow and Program Lead, Methodology and Measurement, Matilda Centre at matthew.sunderland@sydney.edu.au.

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