Time to listen and support

Man Hand Shoulder

Mental health workers in the region have urged residents to take the personal toll from the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and maintain community connections despite the rigours of isolation.

Mindful Margaret River chairman Stuart Hicks said community anxiety was inevitable from the double whammy of the pandemic as well as the economic devastation resulting from WA’s strict lockdown.

Stuart Hicks Selfie 2020 2
Stuart Hicks, Chair of MMR

“It is normal to feel overwhelmed. You are not alone,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Hicks’ alliance of local healthcare workers recommended residents “practice some psychological first aid”.

“We need to check how our family and friends are going,” he said.

“We should take special care to talk to children and old people. Caring is contagious. Caring for each other makes us feel better.”

Local retired doctor Peter Durey told the Times GPs and residents would struggle during the crisis, just as they were in the wake of previous community disasters such as the 2011 bushfires and the tragic Osmington murder-suicide of 2017.

“I believe that the responsibility lies with their family, friends, neighbours and carers to make that extra contact, particularly by phone, and then listen, and listen properly, actively and without interruption or trying to provide solutions,” he said.

“The elderly have been through a lot and often have a lot more resilience than they are credited with.

“This is going to be a long haul, and inactivity, poor diet and neglecting those medical issues and check-ups could be big issues.

“This is about caring through listening and understanding.”

Health workers’ suggestions included making the effort to talk on the phone, and not just online, and use Skype and similar programs for “virtual home visits”.

Residents were also urged to be mindful of their social media interactions because many residents were distressed.

The endless news cycle concerning COVID-19 could also spike anxiety levels and users should consider regular breaks.

“How much useful information are you getting or giving?” Mr Hicks said.

“Maybe we need less of that rubbish. Turn it away.”

More than anything, physical activity, nutrition and rest were crucial — and getting outdoors, following appropriate guidelines, was also recommended.

Returning to rituals such as family dinners — even if they’re held via Zoom — reinforced basic mental health

“If we need it, we must seek support and help,” Mr Hicks said.

“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.”

Shire president Ian Earl echoed the Mindful Margaret River message. “Please practice patience, be kind to yourself at this time, and reach out to those around you,” he said.

“There are social distancing measures in place but connect in the ways that you can.”

Warren Hately Augusta Margaret River Times

First published in the Augusta Margaret River Times 8 April 2020

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