The heavy, ongoing toll on the mental health of people in NSW from COVID-19 and concurring natural disasters has been highlighted in a new report produced by NSW Council of Social Service, with Mental Health Coordinating Council and a coalition of peak bodies.
In economic terms the report shows a staggering $7.4 billion to 2025 could be ripped out of the NSW economy because of higher rates of depression and anxiety and lost productivity among workers.
Aftershock: Addressing the Economic and Social Costs of the Pandemic and Natural Disasters estimates an increase in 2021 of 171,615, or 21 per cent, more people in NSW with self-reported mental health issues consistent with depression or anxiety.
This increase in people experiencing poor mental health will have associated economic and social costs, including increased expenditure on mental health services, reduced participation in the labour market and increased costs from absenteeism and presenteeism.
The report authored by Impact Economics and Policy illustrates the urgent need for additional, culturally appropriate mental health services and supports in the community.
If left unaddressed, the report finds the huge personal impact will leave a long-term mark on the economy and people of NSW.
Indicators of poor mental health identified in Aftershock
Mental Health Coordinating Council CEO Carmel Tebbutt said the research shows specific cohorts have been more significantly impacted by the pandemic and natural disasters in recent years.
“The psychological effects of a disaster are more drastic among children, women and the dependent elderly – they are the most vulnerable populations and should therefore be the focus of interventions,” Ms Tebbutt said.
“Women aged 16 to 24 already have the highest prevalence of poor mental health in NSW and are twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
“COVID also disproportionally impacted people with a disability, due to lack of access to vaccines and interruptions in usual services and supports.
Ms Tebbutt said community mental health services are vital in responding to disasters as they reduce the burden of mental health conditions by supporting recovery and minimising the severity and long-term risks.
“We commend the NSW Government spending $2.9 billion on mental health services in 2022-2023, representing a 21 per cent increase on 2020-2021, however the spend on vital residential and community mental health services falls behind other states,” Ms Tebbutt said.
Aftershock identified these services to reduce the economic cost of poor mental health
The peak bodies are urging the NSW Government to respond to the dire need through a range of targeted investments.
“Community living and accommodation supports, including the ‘step-up, step-down’ model, reduce risks and deliver better long-term outcomes for people transitioning back into the community from psychiatric inpatient facilities,” Ms Tebbutt said.
“We are calling on the Government for an additional 600 step-up, step-down beds to reduce the number of admissions and re-admissions to acute care facilities as the mental health impacts of COVID and other disasters continue to play out.”
“Step-up, step-down services provide a supportive home-like, therapeutic environment for people in need of this intensive support. These services have demonstrated that they represent a sound investment, delivering long term cost savings including a reduction in re-admissions.”