Loneliness will linger as a major national health crisis as the enforced self-isolation of COVID-19 continues into an unknown future.
Lifeline, the nation's leading suicide prevention service, has been fielding calls for help never before experienced in their 57-year history.
Lifeline Australia chairman John Brogden said the service was receiving about 3200 calls a day, and more than half of those were related to anxiety and fear around the pandemic.
"We have gone from the virus barely existing in people's minds in an Australian context, to fielding an extraordinary volume of calls in a very short period of time," Mr Brogden said.
Mr Brogden said that while loneliness had always been a big issue for Lifeline, it was now on the rise and becoming a major issue for the nation.
"In effect COVID-19's social distancing, isolation and lockdown restrictions are virtually ordering people to be lonely for the sake of their physical health, but the impact on people's mental health can be devastating," he said.
In effect COVID-19's social distancing, isolation and lockdown restrictions are virtually ordering people to be lonely for the sake of their physical health, but the impact on people's mental health can be devastating.- John Brogden
"You have a situation where social engagement is a huge part of people's lives and all of a sudden there is virtually no human contact. Some people already have small social networks and the sense of isolation and loneliness is exacerbated."
Mr Brogden pointed out that Australia is at the end of a long summer, and now we are going to be experiencing shorter days, less sun and more darkness, and this has a real effect on people's psychological state.
"We are certain that the longer this state of isolation lasts, the greater the number of people reaching out for help will be," he said.
"People are worried because their jobs are at risk, their personal assets are at risk and they have no idea what the future looks like.
"The physical health crisis will end at some point, but the mental health issues will roll on into the future."
Mr Brogden said Lifeline was receiving about 10 to 15 calls a day where responders had to keep people on the phone while they called an ambulance or police to intervene in a suicide.
"There will be many people who are coping now, who won't be coping in a few months," he said.
"Often we will put a "safe plan" in place to get people through the day, or refer people to other services, but sometimes it's more a matter of just talking to people.
"There are people out there, and the call they make to Lifeline is the only conversation they have all week."
Lifeline is also there for people who aren't in crisis but who are worried about other people in crisis, friends or members of their family.
Mr Brogden said state and federal government support had been most welcome as had the greater contribution of volunteers.
"We are managing to cope and we we are here for those who need us."
He said it was important for people to realise that Lifeline was non-judgmental, and callers remained anonymous.
Lifeline has also begun trialling a texting service to cater for younger people who are part of a texting culture and more comfortable communicating in that way.
"The texting service trial has produced some fascinating results," Mr Brogden said.
"We have found more than 60% of respondents to the trial of the text service were saying said that if not for text service they would not have contacted Lifeline at all."
The trial also revealed that rural Australians and Indigenous people are more likely to text for help.
"We will move to make it a permanent 24-hour service in the future.
"We've found in the text environment people tend to be more direct and more open about their problems."
Lifeline Crisis Hotline: 13 11 14
To donate to Lifeline, visit: https://fundraise.lifeline.org.au/emergency-appeal
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.