Medical Board of Australia - Podcast: How the pandemic is changing mental healthcare
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Podcast: How the pandemic is changing mental healthcare

22 Sep 2020

Ahpra releases its latest podcast in the Taking care series.

The latest episode of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s (Ahpra) Taking Care podcast, is a conversation about the changes in mental healthcare in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Host Tash Miles speaks to three guests currently working in mental healthcare in Victoria, the Australian state hardest hit by COVID-19.

Clinical psychologist Dr Gemma Sharp, psychiatrist and medical educator Associate Professor Rob Selzer, and psychiatrist Dr Rebecca Hope, discuss the effect the pandemic is having on our collective mental health, who is seeking mental healthcare, and what that care looks like.

The importance of good mental health—and healthcare—has come into an even sharper focus through this pandemic. As more people are seeking support, practitioners are needing to adapt to new ways of working and helping their patients.

In this episode, all three practitioners note the challenging reality of loneliness, the absence of touch and changes to our usual social connections. Lockdown is forcing people to replace these ‘normal’ ways of interacting with online communication. Assoc. Prof. Rob Selzer said, ‘There are a lot of things that audio-visual communication cannot replace. Touch is so important among friends and family - a hug or a handshake – and we can’t do that now… All of these social norms that we’re so used to as a species have stopped. And it’s very hard for us to get our heads around that.’

The alternative of online treatment, face-to-face care, also has its drawbacks. Dr Rebecca Hope describes some of the challenges of providing good mental healthcare in the intensity of the critical care setting. ‘A lot of the people in the Emergency Department are people we don’t have a lot of information about. So, we need to try to get a relationship with them quickly so they can tell you what their story is, and you can come to a treatment plan with them. The use of PPE—or essentially working in a plastic bag—does make things a lot harder.’

However, it is not all bad news. The pandemic has led to some positive changes to how mental healthcare in Australia is provided, making it more accessible for some.

The introduction of telehealth, for example, has enabled more people to access psychological treatment from the comfort and safety of their homes. Dr Gemma Sharp has now conducted many sessions of telehealth which have included not only her clients, but their pets, children and other household members. ‘Telehealth enables people to access care wherever they are comfortable, and I think that’s a great thing.’

Download and listen to the latest Ahpra Taking care podcast episode today. Ahpra releases a new episode every fortnight, discussing current topics and the latest issues affecting safe healthcare in Australia. You can also listen and subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and by searching ‘Taking Care’ in your podcast player.

For more information

  • If you have questions or feedback about the podcast, email [email protected].
  • For media enquiries, phone 03 8708 9200.
  • For registration enquiries, please phone 1300 419 495 (within Australia) +61 3 9285 3010 (overseas callers).


Page reviewed 22/09/2020