New Zealand / Covid 19

Move to 'real world' will cause anxiety for some - psychologist

07:28 am on 8 June 2020

Mental health workers are bracing for a surge in anxiety cases under alert level 1, as people feel distressed by the return to a more hectic world after the calm of the previous levels.

Photo: 123RF

The Cabinet will decide today whether to move to level 1, which has no restrictions on physical distancing and gathering sizes.

Victoria University clinical psychologist Dougal Sutherland said many people found they settled into lockdown level 4 quite well.

"[They went] 'Ah, actually this is safe, it's controllable, it's predictable, I know what's going to happen, I can pretty much control everything around me.'"

Dougal Sutherland Photo: Supplied / Victoria University

As the country moved down the alert levels, the changes caused anxiety levels to spike again and again.

"Any time that you have change and uncertainty, that's a time when people are likely to feel stress and anxiety."

Dr Sutherland said some people would be dreading the move to level 1.

He said those people might think: "'Now I've got to go back into the real world and actually, I've been spending eight weeks not really socialising and it has been quite good. And now I have to go back out there and I've been avoiding these situations.'

"So it brings with it a whole lot of new challenges having to get back into all those situations that you might have been avoiding previously."

He said during the pandemic, an interesting pattern emerged.

There was one group who had not previously suffered poor mental health but who had struggled during the pandemic, and another who lived with anxiety but felt quite calm during it because the upheaval in the outside world matched their internal state.

"[They felt] 'almost normal because everybody else has this anxiety as well'."

He said in the coming months, he expected to see more people stressed and depressed as the economic consequences of the pandemic started to bite, and this could go on for years.

Dr Sutherland said large events such as the Covid-19 pandemic always led to a surge in demand for mental health services.

But many psychologists and therapists were already at capacity, and he did not know how the system would cope.

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