Mental health risks of COVID-19

and how to manage them in Margaret River

These are unusual times. We all know that. In Augusta-Margaret River, as we head towards our traditional winter malaise, there are some uncommon happenings that really worry us.

We can be concerned about the general state of the world’s politics and its leadership. We can worry about the beginnings of financial recession. We might worry about our jobs, our families and our friends. Ours is a tourist shire and we see evidence that tourism is struggling. Many of us are concerned about the profound impact of climate change on the plants and animals; the land where we live. The nightmare fire season in the East has reminded us of our own vulnerability to bushfire. And now, with COVID-19, we face a new uncertainty—the effect of a pandemic on us and our loved ones, on our hopes and plans, on meeting our needs, on holidays and family visits, sport and recreation, our jobs, our way of life. The possibility of sickness and worse.

It is normal to feel overwhelmed. You are not alone. We are in this together. Different people have different responses. Those with a past history of a mental problem or a trauma experience can be especially vulnerable. However, it can also affect people who have never felt this way before.

Even without an outbreak of the virus in our community, COVID-19 affects our community’s health because the pandemic affects how we feel—our mental wellbeing. One obvious issue is the weight of the anxiety, the risk, the uncertainty of living with an uncharted contagious disease. However, there is another thing that can affect our wellbeing; society is dealing with a pandemic, we are being required to keep apart from each other in ways that are not normal. Australia has not reached the stage of the wholesale lockdown that applies in countries like Italy. Hopefully we won’t be. We are being encouraged to seriously curtail our social interactions. Although there are good and important reasons for this enforced isolation, it can have an adverse effect on how we feel. It intensifies a sense of being helpless, alone and anxious. We need to obey instructions and find ways to stay emotionally healthy when our social connections are being seriously constrained.

What can we do to protect ourselves and support others? Here’s some suggestions.

 
  • Maintain our social connections. We need to find ways of maintaining friendships when we can’t always hug. Remember what phones did before they became Facebook, Twitter, Instagram devices and cameras – Ring them up.
  • We can do Virtual Home Visits. Try using Skype, so we can look at each other as we chat.
  • Think about how we are using social media. In the twitter sphere, COVID-19 has gone (as they say) viral. How much useful information are you getting or giving? Maybe we need less of that rubbish. Turn it away.
  • Choose one or two reliable sites for up-to-date information on the pandemic —on what’s happening and what we need to know. The World Health Organisation or the Commonwealth Department of Health, for example, or a good news site. The rest is noise, which is best not to engage with. 
  • We live in a region where it might be possible to self-isolate without entirely locking ourselves in our houses. We can go to the bush. Take a walk. We can’t catch the virus from a marri or a magpie. It helps us stay fit too. (If you are affected by the disease, of course, you must follow isolation instructions to the letter.)
  • We must take care of ourselves. Eat and exercise well. Think about our mindfulness, how we are relaxing. Revisit our spirituality.
  • Practice some psychological first-aid. We need to check how our family and friends are going. We should take special care to talk to children and old people. Caring is contagious. Caring for each other makes us feel better.
  • Don’t worry too much about the stuff we can’t do anything about. We can have an opinion about what ScoMo or the World Health Organisation or anybody else ought to be doing, or ought to stop doing. However, we’re best to give more thought to our own role. It’s too easy to get your knickers in a knot about somebody else’s ‘over-reaction’ or their lack of action. Having strong opinions on all this is natural—but it’s a pretty useless response to the anger, confusion or anxiety we might be feeling.
  • We can establish some new rituals—things we didn’t have time for before. Sit on the back porch every night before dinner. What about Sunday lunch with the family? We can do it by setting up a Zoom conference meeting and bringing it to the table. We all eat together.
  • We should try to avoid using tobacco, alcohol or other drugs to manage our emotions.
  • We can think about whether we are buying extra stuff just to comfort ourselves with a sense of action. There’s only a certain number of packets of pasta you can eat.
  • We should honour our caregivers. They’ve got a lot going on right now. It can be stressful for them too. Say thanks.
  • If we need it, we must seek support and help. Be open about how we feel. Have a chat with someone we trust. We can make an appointment to see a doctor or speak with a professional psychologist or counsellor.

Altogether as a community we need to invent ways to ‘stand apart closely’. Mindful Margaret River cares about this. We can help each other. Please contact us on info@mindfulmargaretriver.org.au

Stuart Hicks
Chairman, Mindful Margaret River

Mindful Margaret River is the Augusta Margaret River Community Mental Health Alliance, comprising practitioners, Government agencies, the Shire and the community; working together to promote mental wellbeing in the Shire of Augusta Margaret River.

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