GPs report a “massive” increase in patients struggling with COVID-19 anxiety

Anxiety about catching and passing on COVID-19 is well known, but GPs now warn of alarming levels of fear in society.

Doctors say Australians tell them they are worried about catching COVID-19 and passing it on to vulnerable relatives.

And many people who are isolated or stay at home for extended periods of time are also increasingly struggling with mental health issues.

The Omicron variant has led to rising cases across most of the country, with Australia’s leaders meeting for a speedy national cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Ciara McDonald is a general practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and sees a wave of patients show up to her practice, sick of worry.

“I could not put a number on it, but it’s a massive increase,” McDonald said.

She told ABC News that many patients often come with a niggle or two and then go on to tell her that they, too, are worried that they will not make it.

“They might say, ‘I’ve had a tingle in my hand and I do not know why,'” she said.

“And then they might say, ‘I also had this uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, and I’m worried that something more will happen.’

“Or it could be, you know, ‘I know I’m anxious and I’m not sure how to deal with it’ – that may be the presentation.

“It could just be a feeling of feeling very overwhelmed and upset and not being able to deal with everyday stress, and they haven’t really had that before.

“So there are different ways it happens.”

Brian Morton is also a GP in Sydney who mostly sees older Australians.

He said the striking aspect of the anxiety surrounding COVID-19 is that it does not let go of patients and it is something many have never had to struggle with before.

“I think there is fear of COVID, in general, and Omicron, especially because it seems to be so transferable,” he said.

“[Patients] are disappointed. They usually have the mindset that you know that pediatric vaccines provide lifelong protection, but that they need three [shots] and the rapid loss of protection. “

OzSAGE is a network of Australian experts from a wide range of sectors relevant to the well-being of Australians.

It is concerned about a warning issued by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard – that “everyone will get Omicron” – ignoring the concerns of patients with cancer and other immunosuppressed people.

But Mr Morton said he was reassured by the level of community co-operation he has witnessed around being COVID-safe.

“I went through Chatswood [in Sydney] a week ago, and when I drove down the street, there was probably one in 100 people who were not wearing masks, “Mr Morton said.

“So I think people are ready to do the right thing.

“I think there is a very high degree of responsibility in society.”

Psychologist Ellen Jackson told ABC News that Australians felt and experienced an extraordinary sense of loss of control through this pandemic.

Woman wearing white smile to the camera.
Psychologist Ellen Jackson says the best thing people can do is focus on what is within their control.(Delivered)

But, she said, she wanted to reassure those who were overly concerned that there were ways to combat overwhelming anxiety.

“So much of what we’re experiencing right now is beyond our control,” she said.

“The best thing we can all do is really try to stay focused on what we can control.

“And it can be our own ability to control where we are, who we are among, how well we are at a distance, by using masks – those things help.

“It’s just being really present in the moment and reminding ourselves that we’re okay right now, we can get through the next minute or the next hour and the next day.

“It makes it a little easier or a little less likely for our brains to spiral out to think about all the things we can not control.”

Your local doctor is also someone who can help with anxiety, McDonald said.

“We call it psycho-education – basically helping people understand depression and anxiety and how it affects them, and telling them they can handle this,” she said.

“I think a lot of the time it works for people just to have an understanding of what’s going on.”

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