When the Canterbury area was devastated by the massive earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, we knew there would be a significant mental health impact. At first the impact was obvious: people were stressed, dealing with grief, loss and dislocation.

Help was dispatched, and a crisis response mobilised. However those of us who had worked with trauma and anxiety for many years knew we were not even at the beginning of the emotional fallout, and predicted that the real spike would be as late as three years later. As life returned to normal and people moved out of crisis mode only then would anxiety really peak.

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In fact it lasted even longer than many predicted, as children born and raised through the earthquakes and ongoing after shocks grew up in an atmosphere of anxiety and tension. These young people carried that anxiety with them as they moved into the world, and many still bear the psychological scars.


There is much we can take from the Canterbury experience that will serve us well as we turn our thoughts towards what post-Covid 19 lockdown life looks like, but there are also many unknowns.

Rightfully, all of our attention is currently on how we cope with lockdown, and on simply surviving and struggling to adjust to the "new normal".

Just as we are being asked to consider what "shovel ready" infrastructure projects we can prioritise to help launch the economic recovery, we also need to start rapidly planning how we will respond to the surge of emotional distress that will become apparent once we move out of crisis mode.

What will we need to launch our social and emotional recovery?

"Shovel ready" cannot just mean road building and business as usual. It must include re-building our health system and strengthening the social supports we have all quickly realised are essential - and will only become increasingly more vital.

What we already know from countries such as South Korea - that have moved in and out of lockdown - is that many people are left too anxious to leave their homes even once they are able to.

This is the obvious and perhaps most understandable immediate impact.

But how will we respond to the massive grief and distress caused by a way of life that for many will never be the same again: businesses closed, overseas travel curtailed, links to families in other countries strained and careers rendered obsolete over night.


Moreover, we simply won't have time to go through the many laboured steps of service design, tendering, and piloting to only once more re-invent the wheel.

We have to be ready to go now, and that means simply increasing access to what we have, and scaling services up quickly so we can catch those who will quickly fall once the pressure of lockdown alleviates and space for the anxiety and ongoing distresses opens up.

We must direct new funding towards existing helplines and online help, as well as public mental health services. We will need to recruit staff who have left the mental health sector back to work in community services.

We need to prioritise training more professionals and specialists who can meet the need that will likely only grow over the next few years - including peer support workers and those with experience, and we must start now.

And we need to need to make talk therapy available for all, at least six fully funded sessions for anyone who might need it - and more if there is clear clinical need.

We did it in Christchurch; if people needed therapy we simply paid for it. We already have a workforce of private therapists, psychologists and counsellors ready to go.

And while planning your day, practising mindfulness and going for a daily walk is a great plan to manage the current crisis, it isn't going to cut it when we wake up as a nation in a few months' time, look around at the rubble of the life we once knew, catch our breath and think to ourselves "What the hell just happened . . ?"

It's time to put "be kind" into action.