It is normal to feel stressed and worried where there is an outbreak of an infectious disease like the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Health events like these can cause uncertainty and anxiety which can impact our mental health and wellbeing. This is especially common during the early stages of an outbreak when there is commonly a lot of uncertainty about the nature of the disease, its scope and potential impact.
This emotional distress is understandable and can affect anyone in the community who is concerned about the virus, while people who are in quarantine, people in quarantine and people who have received a diagnosis may have deeper concerns.
For most people the distress is tolerable and short-lived and can be improved with the care and support of families and the community, while others may require more professional support and specialised mental health support to stay on track.
Staying mentally healthy and taking care of yourself and your family during infectious disease outbreak is important and can help you and your family manage emotional distress.
The most important thing you can do is to maintain basic hygiene and preventive measures including
- frequent handwashing
- covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
- washing your hands often with soap and water
- using alcohol based hand sanitisers.
If you are sick, avoid contact with others and stay more than 1.5 metres away from people who are unwell, and if you are sick, call your doctor or the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 for advice.
Other ways that can help you stay healthy and calm include
- maintaining your normal routine
- talking to your family and friends about your worries and concerns
- engaging in enjoyable activities and hobbies
- limiting alcohol and other comfort foods
- using trusted media outlets to get the information you need. (Excess media exposure to the coverage of stressful events can have negative health outcomes.)
Coping with quarantine
If you are quarantined or need to quarantine the following will help to keep your spirits up:
- maintaining a normal daily routine as much as possible
- staying connected with friends and family through social media and over the phone
- making some time for exercise
- using your time at home to complete work if that’s possible for you
- taking advantage of the time to relax and read a book.
See Coping with quarantine to understand what to expect, how to look after yourself and others, and where to get help.
During infectious disease outbreaks, health practitioners on the frontline are likely to encounter patients who are experiencing different levels of emotional distress about the outbreak and its impact upon them and their communities.
Health practitioners are also members of our community who will experience emotional distress which can be magnified by caring for sick and distressed patients. Health practitioners need to ensure that their basic needs are met including:
- maintaining a healthy diet
- staying hydrated
- getting enough sleep
- taking a break when needed
- checking in with family
- monitoring their own levels of distress.
If you notice a change in the way that you or others around you are thinking and feeling, or you feel that you are not coping then it is important to talk to a health professional.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is finding it difficult to participate in normal daily activities, has lost hope or interest in the future, or is experiencing an overwhelming sense of sadness that is severe or long lasting, then contact your GP.
You can also access a range of telephone and online supports through:
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36
- Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
- Mens Line Australia: 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
- Rural Alive and Well (RAW): 1300 4357 6283
Access reliable information
Accessing reliable information during an infectious disease outbreak will assist you and your family to stay healthy.
For reliable and accurate health-related information go to:
- Australian Government Department of Health
- National Coronavirus Helpline: 1800 020 080
- Public Health Hotline: 1800 671 738
- Tasmanian Public Health Services
- Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health
The coronavirus will challenge our personal and community resilience, and community recovery will take some time, but if we look after ourselves and each other, stay informed and stay calm, we will continue to adapt and respond in a positive way