Australia needs to urgently work on preventative measures for mental health problems in preparing for future crises, director and chief scientist of the Black Dog Institute says.
Professor Helen Christensen said governments needed to treat mental health concerns with the same level of priority as the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's been a little minor revolution what's happened and it's very much been focused on not spreading the virus but imagine doing that sort of revolution around mental health care," Professor Christensen said.
"We know what to do but we just don't seem to think that that's the priority."
The Black Dog Institute estimates about 20 per cent of people would be developing a moderate to severe mental health problem as a result of COVID-19.
The research institute's surveys found 75 per cent of young people were reporting they were experiencing psychological distress.
Data has also revealed an increase in suicide ideation. Surveys of children last year showed about 5 per cent of the population were thinking about suicide compared to 10 to 12 per cent of young people this year.
Professor Christensen said young people were still facing the consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis in that it slowed their career progression and made the job market more competitive. This has now been compounded by the COVID-19 recession.
She said women's mental health had also been disproportionately affected because of an increase in household responsibilities during the lockdown periods, greater exposure to family violence and higher unemployment levels.
"We have learned an awful lot from public health perspective about how to prevent the spread (of COVID-19).
"Now we really need to look now at our mental health preparedness plan, which is working out who are those most at risk because it's only really just coming to light that it's the vulnerable communities that are most affected by this."
The institute has turned its attention to trialling digital technologies that can be used for mass-screening of people, especially children, and for effective treatment of patients.
Black Dog Institute research showed a therapist could see nine times as many people by using a blended model using evidence-based digital interventions.
The pandemic has made telehealth services more accessible but there is more that can be done to incorporate technology into the mental health space.
"We still haven't kind of woken up to this idea that digital interventions can amplify the effects of normal face-to-face care," Professor Christensen said.
"You've got Zoom but you're still there hundred percent with the therapists and there are much more interesting models by which we can deliver much more care for the same amount of cost."
Professor Christensen will be speaking on Monday, November 9 at the annual dinner of the National Foundation for Australian Women and Girls at the National Press Club. Virtual tickets are available from nfaw.org.