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Ban on exercise first in line to be lifted as lockdown threatens mental health

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The ban on exercise will be the first restriction lifted after the six-day lockdown, authorities have advised, amid concerns about its toll on the mental health of South Australians.

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South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier this morning said she understood the exercise restriction was “not sustainable” and that’s why it would be the first to be eased – but the restriction remains in place for now.

She also revealed the reason to keep bottle shops open was a “clinical” decision based on the impact of shutting off supply for people with alcohol addictions.

Her comments came as mental health advocates voiced concerns about the impact of the restrictions – and lack of notice – on the wellbeing of not just those with existing mental health conditions, but all South Australians.

Mental Health Coalition of SA executive director Geoff Harris told InDaily it could cause severe problems for many people and that it was important to know that help is still out there.

“This lockdown might be harder for a lot of people given how sudden it’s been and also how it’s gone to quite a severe stage of lockdown, so people haven’t been able to prepare in terms of visiting loved ones or doing some of the things you have been able to do before the last lockdown,” he said.

“It will potentially impact on people with mental health problems, but also people who haven’t had problems before.”

He urged people to check for updates on the regulations, in case of changes.

“All this happened in such a hurry,” he said.

“I think some of these issues weren’t completely thought through. There may well be clarifications and changes.”

Harris said people receiving mental health and disability supports would still be able to access them during the shutdown because they were “essential services”.

“I’m keen to get a clear message out that if people are receiving mental health or disability support, that will continue but it might be modified,” he said.

He urged people to do things that made them feel good – “like have a cup of tea outside or watch exercise videos”.

Harris also stressed the importance at a time like this of eating well and getting enough sleep.

He welcomed news that the restriction on exercise would be among the first lifted at the end of the lockdown.

Spurrier said the ban on leaving your home to exercise was necessary as part of the “circuit-breaker” to limit the cluster.

“I absolutely understand that is not sustainable and that’s why we are doing it for a short period of time,” she told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“We are very lucky in SA that we don’t have a large amount of high-rise apartment living and I do absolutely sympathise for people who are in that situation and are in an apartment but this is just for six days.

“Obviously you can use your property so if you’ve got a backyard, yes you can get out and run around in the backyard with your pet.”

Spurrier said without a ban on exercise she was concerned people would flood places like beaches and Mt Lofty.

She said the ban on exercise would be “the first thing that we lift after this six days”.

When asked why people couldn’t exercise yet they could go to a bottle shop to buy alcohol Spurrier explained that it was a “clinical” decision based on the impact on alcoholics.

“Unfortuantely we do have a lot of people in Australia and in SA that have a serious alcohol addiction and talking to our drug and alcohol clinicians we can’t go for too long without letting people have access to that,” she said.

“So that really was a clinical call.

“If we have people staying at home and they have an alcohol addiction you can understand how that would affect them in terms of their mental health and their ability to function and we didn’t want to see an escalation in domestic violence or those sorts of things.

“So you have to weigh up what the risks are in these sorts of circumstances.”

South Australia’s Chief Psychiatrist Dr John Brayley had already raised major concerns about the impact of the pandemic and subsequent restrictions on the mental health of South Australians, even before this latest lockdown began.

In a recent interview with the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri, posted online, Brayley said there had been a 15 per cent increase in presentations to emergency departments, since the pandemic began, for people with mental health and/or drug and alcohol problems.

He said half of that increase involved people under 25.

“There’s been no doubt that the pandemic has had a differential impact on younger people,” he said.

“We can see that in our statistics.”

He also said there had been a 17 per cent increase in calls to metropolitan mental health lines and at least a 30 per cent increase to the country line.

Multicultural Youth SA (MYSA) CEO Tamara Stewart-Jones said the organisation had already noticed an exacerbation of mental health issues relating to financial stress and isolation as a result of the latest wave of restrictions.

She said MYSA had been inundated with calls to its 24-hour hotline in the past two days from members of the South Australian migrant community who were panicked about how they would financially support themselves.

“Baby formula is probably the biggest issue, that’s coming through from vulnerable mums, so we’re doing everything we can to get those essential items out to them,” Stewart-Jones said.

“It’s been bought out and although they may have enough formula for three days obviously the lockdown goes for six and for some, they actually don’t have the money to pay for the formula.”

She said international students, many of whom were reliant on casual work and had not seen their families all year, were “particularly vulnerable” to financial stress as a result of the latest lockdown.

“I think there is the real assumption that because they (international students) chose to come here, and could afford to come here, that they have the skills to access support services.”

“But they can only work up to 25 hours a week when they are an international student and … in complete shutdown they don’t have that income coming in.”

She said while MYSA was providing supermarket and phone vouchers there were still concerns international students would become isolated and develop mental health issues, without the funds to buy phone credit and call home.

“Although it may seem like a small detail, it’s really critical to the connectedness and also has direct implications for their mental health, making sure they are connected to their key supports, like their mother and father and brother and sister.

“The majority are living with housemates, because they can’t afford to live alone, but a lot of these aren’t necessarily housemates that they’ve become friends with.

“A lot of them stick to their room because they haven’t formed close bonds or close relationships with these people.”

Domestic violence organisation Women’s Safety Services SA (WSSSA) said the latest lockdown may result in a spike in domestic and family violence as many domestic and family violence victims were required to remain home with their perpetrators.

“During this lockdown, we may see an increased depth of complexity from callers related to COVID19, including the consequences of restrictions and emerging patterns of perpetrator behaviours that have been exacerbated during the pandemic,” WSSSA marketing and community officer Nadia Clancy said.

“We know domestic and family violence occurs within a pattern of abuse and control; extreme circumstances placed on households can increase the intensity of controlling behaviours and provide further opportunity for this to occur, such as financial abuse and emotional abuse.”

Clancy said the coronavirus pandemic had “intensified the experience” of domestic and family violence for women and children.

She said WSSSA had heard from women who had not previously been connected with domestic and family violence support.

Clancy’s comments follow a 15 per cent increase emergency accommodation placements from March to May compared to the same time last year, according to the organisation.

“We may see this again over this lockdown,” Clancy said.

“As a community we need to ensure we reach those most vulnerable at the times they need it.

“This means ensuring community awareness that essential services such as domestic and family violence support services are always available and able to assist, just as WSSSA has been throughout the pandemic.

“During this time it’s really important we look out for one another- so if you are concerned about the safety of someone you know, we encourage you to call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line.

“Our counsellors can help make a plan to support the safety of women and children.”

Zahra Foundation founder Arman Abrahimzadeh said workplaces also had a duty of care to ensure their employees were safe when working from home.

“They should have policies and process to reflect this,” Abrahimzadeh said.

“Maybe a key question by the employer should be: ‘Do you feel safe working from home?’ Another way for employers/ executives/ managers to do this is to simply have daily check ups on their staff where possible.”

He said it was the community’s responsibility to ensure people remained safe during this time.

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