Much is being spoken of at present about the shadow pandemic, and rightly so. It would be remiss of us to focus on the health crisis caused by the pandemic and not also give attention to the severe impacts of the lockdowns and restrictions.

What is the Shadow Pandemic?

Since the outbreak of covid-19, all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified. The term “Shadow Pandemic” was first coined regarding this increase in domestic violence caused by lockdown restrictions. Women and children found themselves restricted to home with an abusive, violent man.

The Shadow Pandemic now also refers to mental health concerns that have also increased, especially amongst young people. There has been an increase in ambulance attendances for suicidal thoughts and self-harm in NSW and Victoria. Add to these significant crises the grinding sense of COVID fatigue that many of us experience, and we have a shadow pandemic.


Suicides do not appear to have increased thus far due to the pandemic. Hopefully, this is owing to the array of services to help people with their mental health and programs like Job Keeper designed to soften the economic blow resulting from lockdowns.

But let’s steer clear of arguing about suicide statistics. One suicide is one too many, and it’s something that touches us deeply. I attempted to end my life when I was 20. I am very grateful I failed. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I think of the life I would have missed out on if I had ended my life. Not to mention my beautiful family and all the people I’ve impacted in the last four decades.

In my pastoral ministry, I’ve attended homes where a person has suicided. I’ve broken the tragic news to family members, I’ve conducted the funerals. It’s heartbreaking. So please, look out for your friends and family, as well as yourself. If you need help, please reach out. If you’re concerned for a friend or family member, please reach out.

Back to Normal?

It’s unlikely that any sense of “normal life” will return before 2022. We need to realise that life as we knew it is, for the time being, past tense. I read a fascinating story recently about a guy who suffered as a prisoner of war. He mentioned that the men who managed the best didn’t expect an imminent rescue. They got their mind around the concept of the long haul. That’s a healthy approach for us right now.

And realise too that “normal” life will be very different. Achieving 70-80% vaccination doesn’t mean this virus goes away. The Delta variant is at least twice as infectious as the original strain. Along with governments and medical professionals, the community will need to determine how many people getting sick and dying is acceptable to us.

For example, new research from the University of WA (and others) reveals reopening at a 70% vaccination rate could result in 6.9 million symptomatic Covid-19 cases, 154,000 hospitalisations, and 29,000 deaths. If Australia reopens once 80% of adults are vaccinated, there could be approximately 25,000 fatalities and 270,000 cases of long-COVID.

The New Normal

Living with COVID-19 will mean cases of the virus will need to be detected, traced to their source, and everyone infected will need to isolate. Quarantine will continue for those returning from overseas (“Test. Trace. Isolate. Quarantine”). Lockdowns will be limited and local and only mandated when the health system is under stress. Masks will be a sensible measure where physical distancing is not possible. My Asian friends have been wearing them for years! No, I don’t like wearing a mask either. Also “no,” I don’t like getting sick or passing sickness onto others.

With new technology, vaccines will improve, and treatments will become available. Vaccine passports may be necessary for the transition period, as was the case during the Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago. More on that at another time. I don’t believe that vaccination will be mandated except in certain professions and as required by individual companies.

In the meantime

Vaccination remains our best line of defence. I strongly encourage you to talk this through with your GP. COVID-19 is a terrible disease. Some have played down the seriousness of this virus, quoting statistics of over 99% recovery rate, but this is not the entire picture. A large portion of COVID-19 patients—possibly as high as 30 percent…suffer some type of neurological or psychiatric symptoms. Those concerned for people’s mental health need to consider this outcome of COVID-19.

These health issues, named Long COVID, can linger for weeks or months after the initial infection. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog,” sleep disorders, fevers, gastrointestinal problems, sharp muscle pain, anxiety, and depression. These can range from mild to incapacitating.

Even people who didn’t require hospitalisation are having persistent trouble. What is unclear is how many people will eventually recover and how many will be left with devastating long-term effects. What is clear is this is a virus you want to avoid at all costs ~ and avoid passing on to others!

Guard your Heart

So, how are you doing right now? If you’re stressed by the lockdowns and battling with mental health, consider Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” It’s a case of ‘secure your oxygen mask first before you help those around you.’ We all have a responsibility to self-care. If the news and social media feeds are dampening your spirits, turn them off. Do things that refresh you. What restores and uplifts you? And then, you’ll be able to look out for others from a well that is plentiful, not dry.

Further Help

(If a life is in danger, phone 000)

Lifeline ~ 13 11 14

Beyond Blue ~ 1300 22 46 36 (depression and anxiety)

Headspace ~ (Youth Mental health)

Kids’ Helpline ~ 1800 55 18 00

1800RESPECT ~ 1800 737 732 (sexual assault, domestic family violence)



Recommended Reading: Doherty Institute Executive Summary