Coronavirus: New campaign offers mental health support during COVID-19 crisis

A new campaign launched by the Government aims to provide mental health support to people during the COVID-19 crisis.

New Zealand has been in lockdown for more than a week now, after the nation's alert level was raised to 4 in late April. The move means all Kiwis must self-isolate in their homes - allowed to leave only for exercise and trips to the supermarket - and all non-essential businesses must close.

The restrictions limiting people's movement combined with the economic impact COVID-19 is having on many businesses across the country have brought pressure and anxiety to many Kiwis.

"COVID-19 has brought a lot of uncertainty into our lives and many of us will be feeling some level of distress or worry about the future," said Health Minister David Clark.

"We want people to know that they are not alone, and many Kiwis will be feeling this way. This is completely normal and the messages in the campaign launched today tell us that it’s okay not to feel all right, all of the time."

The campaign includes the  "Getting Through Together" initiative, which shares ways to help people cope with COVID-19-related stress.

The initiative also offers tools for parents, aiming to help them to talk to their primary-school aged children about their mental health and wellbeing.

The campaign was developed by All Right?, which also partnered with the Mental Health Foundation to provide support following the Caterbury earthquakes.

Despite the lockdown, Dr Clark reminded people that many places offering mental health-related support remained operating, though with many using phone or online video consultations instead of meeting face-to-face.

"I am also critically aware of the impact that COVID-19 is having on our frontline health workers.  Many of the employers provide mental health support for their staff, and the Government is looking at what additional support is needed for our health workforce," said Dr Clark.

Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand says the initiative is important because it lets Kiwis know it's okay to not always feel like they are coping.

"Sometimes just fighting those difficult emotions can actually just make them worse," Robinson told The AM Show on Tuesday. 

"Bottling them up or using the bottle to try and deal with them isn't going to be helpful...We don't have to accept that we're all going to get into a terrible emotional space because of this - there are things we can do to support our whānau to support ourselves to feel okay. 

"It won't be awesome all the time but we will get through this mentally and emotionally - that's the biggest message."

More support is expected to be announced later this week after being finalised, including services specifically for Māori, Pacific, older people, people with chronic health conditions or compromised immunity and new mothers.