‘Shadow’ mental health pandemic spreading among Victorian children

Warning – this story may be distressing for some readers

As a GP and a mother, Dr Stacey Harris understands the strain lockdown has on Victorians of all ages.

But she is witnessing first-hand a collective mental breakdown amongst children due to the almost perpetual state of lockdown in Victoria.

"It is close to four out of five young patients coming in because of mental health problems, from ages 10 through to 18," Dr Harris told 9news.com.au.

READ MORE: Victoria records 24 new cases of COVID-19

"These kids are crying out for help and all we are doing is band-aiding and giving them anti-depressants."

Dr Harris understands the need to put restrictions in place to reduce the spread of the virus.

But she says extended school shutdowns and now this week's closure of all playgrounds are exacerbating serious mental health problems.

"I am not talking about seeing sad kids, I am talking about majorly depressed kids … kids talking about suicide."

READ MORE: Lockdown rulebreakers fined as tighter restrictions take effect

According to the latest Victorian Coroner's Court data, eight girls under 18-years-of-age died by suicide between January and July this year.

That is compared to just one death in the first seven months of 2020, and three in the same period in 2019.

Another busy GP Melanie Hemsely from the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora, says avenues for mental health support are at capacity.

"Many child and adolescent psychologists across the state have closed their books and not taking any more patients such is their demand for services," Dr Hemsely told 9news.com.au.

"There are children on wait lists for months and months and months."

Executive director of youth mental health organisation Orygen, Professor Patrick McGorry says he warned last year of an impending shadow pandemic stemming from mental health issues in younger Australians.

"Mental health (issues), especially in young people, is the shadow pandemic and we need to be reporting these numbers on a daily basis alongside the virus," Professor McGorry told 9news.com.au.

READ MORE: Childcare centre among Victoria's more than 500 exposure sites

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says he does understand the hurt lockdowns cause children.

But for now, there is no alternative.

"If there was an easy path here, we would choose it … the awful consequences of lockdown are apparent to everyone, myself maybe more than most," Professor Sutton said.

"All I can say is my heart breaks, so many people's hearts break."

Professor McGorry says once vaccination rates are up to 70-80 per cent Australia must open up and not return to snap lockdowns.

And state and federal leaders must stick to that plan, to give our children – and everyone – a sense of hope amid the despair.

"Hope is the lifeline here and it is the only way we're going to get through this."

If you need help, you can contact:

LIFELINE: 131114

CORONAVIRUS MENTAL WELLBEING SUPPORT SERVICE: 1800 512 348

KIDS HELPLINE: 1800 55 1800

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