An expert at the Ted Noffs Foundation, the largest provider of youth treatment services in Australia, is warning that a wave of substance abuse issues and mental health problems could overwhelm health and social services after COVID-19, unless free and accessible treatment options for vulnerable young people are expanded.
Psychologist Kieran Palmer said prolonged isolation, uncertainty and fear during the pandemic, especially during prolonged periods of lockdown, is a trauma that often leads to drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness.
He fears that support services will be overwhelmed without urgent intervention.
‘We are currently in the midst of such a traumatic situation.
‘Our external world has become completely unpredictable, frightening and dangerous, and no one can guarantee a way forward.’
He describes this uncertainty as a ‘potent risk’, over and above the danger of the virus itself.
‘At a time when our external world is totally out of our control, we must care for our internal world,’ said Mr Palmer.
‘Structuring our days and staying connected to loved ones are key. We need to move, daily, and with purpose. The more we sit still on the couch, the more our stress hormones build up.
‘Activities like yoga and exercise are vital in allowing trauma to move through our bodies.’
The Ted Noffs Foundation says alcohol sales have soared since the initial lockdowns, and illicit drugs are likely following a similar trajectory, with young people hit hardest by the economic downturn.
Mr Palmer said youth services and rehabilitation centres must be ready to support new patients.
‘I’ve spent years working with young people with serious drug and alcohol dependency born from the kind of trauma they are experiencing now,’ he said.
Mr Palmer argues that without planning from governments to start bolstering support services and drug treatment centres, Australia risks ‘leaving those without help to turn to crime and antisocial behaviour.’