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Calls to mental health helplines surge in wake of coronavirus outbtreak

Mental health helplines say they’re seeing an increase in calls, as signs of panic around coronavirus continue in the country’s supermarkets.

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The major supermarket chains are urging calm in the face of more big queues today. Source: 1 NEWS

Royal Oak Pak n Save in Auckland had to stagger the entry of customers to 10 at a time this morning to manage the crowds, and Countdown’s limited the number of items like toilet paper, hand sanitiser, rice and paper to two per customer.

Countdown spokesperson Kiri Hannifin says Kiwis shouldn’t be worrying about temporary gaps on the shelves as the problem is not to do with supply, but demand.

“We don't have enough trucks on the road to replenish the shops quick enough, so the supply is there, there’s plenty of food, but the demand is so extraordinary the supply chain takes some time to catch up.”

The Anxiety NZ Trust’s helpline manager Goldie Hamilton says she’s seen an increased number of calls to the helpline recently, with a number of people wanting to discuss coronavirus.

“We’ve had callers who’ve had travel plans affected, people at home with families who've been isolated…as we move forward there’ll be economic concerns.”

She says coronavirus is affecting those who've never experienced anxiety before and is intensifying the problem for those who already struggle with it.

”Callers with OCD around contamination and handwashing, it can be very unhelpful for them to be in an environment where people are continuously talking about washing their hands.”

Ms Hamilton says Anxiety NZ is well placed to take calls over the coming months, as helpline staff already work from home, so the service won’t be disrupted.

Youthline’s Julian Barnett says it’s noticed callers wanting to talk about coronavirus.

“We have had contacts to our helpline reach out for support and mention Covid-19 in relation to difficulties they’re facing. We’re planning around the creation of new resources that could support young people moving forward.”

Anxiety NZ Trust psychologist Lyn Birrell says there are many different symptoms of anxiety.

“Some people might have physical symptoms, muscle tension or feeling on edge, some people might not sleep very well, a lot of worry, rumination catastrophising. Some people at the moment will be feeling very scared vert fearful, angry, irritated sad or disappointed.”

The Ministry of Health today acknowledged the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is urging kiwis not to pay attention to rumours.

“Every New Zealander I know will be feeling a bit of anxiety, the last thing we want is for anxiety to be based on misinformation,” she says.

“We will provide information frequently, we will share everything we can, everything else you see (take it with) a grain of salt.”

Mental Health Foundation’s released guidelines for dealing with feelings around Covid-19.

Some of the tips include limiting coronavirus updates, getting fresh air and exercise and exploring different ways of relaxing to see what’s best for you.

Ms Birrell says it’s important to acknowledge that it’s okay to be anxious, and that it’s about managing your feelings.

“Breathe, slow everything down and just notice: Where is my mind at? Am I catastrophising, Am I ruminating? And just bringing it back to the present moment.”

She says thinking of others can help with mental health, something Countdown’s Kiri Hannifin says would also help with the jam in supermarket aisles.

“Seeing empty shelves really causes panic, I understand that, I'm a mum, but if we were all considerate and kind to each other and just bought one bag of flour we won't see empty shelves.”

If you are struggling with anxiety you can call the Anxiety NZ Trust’s free 24 hour helpline: 0800 269 4389

Or call: Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or free text 4357 (HELP)

Youthline – 0800 376 633 or free text 234

Samaritans – 0800 726 666