Publication date: Sep 21, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on community mental health globally and widened pre-existing health and social inequities. Tasmania, Australia has one of the highest rates of mental ill health and socioeconomic disadvantage in the country. Whilst Tasmania experienced a delayed and reduced physical presence of COVID-19 compared to other states and territories, mental health impacts remain. It is necessary to understand such impacts to inform policy, practice, and recommendations to enhance the mental health service sector and prevent future mental health burden. This qualitative study aimed to explore expert mental health stakeholders’ perspectives of the impact of COVID-19 on: (1) the mental health of people living in Tasmania, and (2) mental health services. Semi-structured interviews with 12 expert mental health stakeholders across Tasmania were conducted. This sample was well-positioned to comment on the impact of COVID-19 on community mental health and provide recommendations to enhance the sector. Interviews were thematically analysed. Three subthemes exploring the COVID-19 impact on mental health were included: (1) anxiety, distress, and isolation; (2) varying presentations across age groups; and (3) increased complexity. Four key themes capturing the COVID-19 impact on mental health services were identified: (1) transition to telehealth; (2) increased service demand; (3) spotlight on service gaps; and (4) local workforce shortages. The pandemic has highlighted existing gaps across the community mental health service sector, and exacerbated existing psychosocial/structural stressors resulting in increased presentations and complexity of mental illness among the community, particularly for youth. Existing treatment gaps and inequities in service access, engagement, and mental health outcomes will persist if not addressed. Recommendations have been provided to inform community mental health service planning, policy, design, access, and provision, and improve wellbeing.