Reach out if not OK

Central and North Burnett Times - - LIFESTYLE - TRACEY JOHN­STONE

THE in­tru­sion of COVID-19 into ev­ery fi­bre of our lives has the po­ten­tial of a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on our men­tal well­be­ing now and well into the fu­ture un­less we get help.

Anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, lone­li­ness, deal­ing with the pace and types of changes around us and be­ing phys­i­cally iso­lated from our sup­port net­works are all is­sues that con­trib­ute to the state of a per­son’s men­tal well­be­ing.

When one or more of th­ese sit­u­a­tions is al­ready an is­sue for a se­nior, the un­ex­pected on­slaught of this life-threat­en­ing pan­demic can ex­ac­er­bate th­ese is­sues or drive them to ap­pear in our lives.

As we start to move out of so­cial iso­la­tion and start to reen­gage with our com­mu­nity there is no harm, no shame in reach­ing out for sup­port, the ex­perts en­thuse.

CEO of the Na­tional Men­tal Health Com­mis­sion

Chris­tine Mor­gan said her or­gan­i­sa­tion had no­ticed peo­ple were gen­uinely anx­ious.

“We don’t know where this is go­ing,” she said. “Go back seven to eight weeks, we re­ally didn’t un­der­stand what im­pact it was go­ing to have on us. We still don’t.”

The Fed­eral Govern­ment re­cently an­nounced nearly $75 mil­lion for its Na­tional Men­tal Health and Well­be­ing Pan­demic Re­sponse Plan which has a range of fund­ing ini­tia­tives to drive sup­port for the com­mu­nity in­clud­ing for se­niors.

But for the plan to ben­e­fit se­niors it is crit­i­cal we learn that it’s OK not to be OK and to then reach out for sup­port.

When we are phys­i­cally un­well we reach out for help, so why not when we are men­tally un­well?

Dr Mor­gan said there is aware­ness; and con­ver­sa­tions are oc­cur­ring around men­tal health but when it comes to con­nect­ing those con­ver­sa­tions with our self and con­se­quently seek­ing help, there are many bar­ri­ers.

“There are high lev­els of stigma,” she said. “Peo­ple feel as though they can’t do it for them­selves.”

“We need to reach out and en­gage in con­ver­sa­tions with some­body to start talk­ing about what it is that is mak­ing you feel anx­ious, de­pressed, con­cerned.

“There is no stigma at­tached to men­tal health. It’s just as nor­mal as our phys­i­cal health.”

Black Dog In­sti­tute’s se­nior clin­i­cal ad­viser and di­rec­tor of East Coast Psy­chol­ogy and Psy­chi­a­try Pro­fes­sor Vi­jaya Man­i­cavasagar ad­vises that be­fore help­ing oth­ers as many se­niors have a ten­dency to do, look­ing af­ter our­selves first will go a long way to pre­par­ing us to help other peo­ple. Where to find help

The Na­tional Health Plan en­com­passes a range of ini­tia­tives around online and phone sup­port.

The Com­mu­nity Vis­i­tors

Scheme is to be ex­panded to in­clude more staff and vol­un­teers who will work with se­niors, help­ing them con­nect online and by phone while its one-on-one home vis­its aren’t pos­si­ble.

This ser­vice is avail­able for se­niors on govern­ment-sub­sidised res­i­den­tial aged care or Home Care pack­ages and those who are so­cially iso­lated.

From July 1 ad­di­tional fund­ing will be al­lo­cated to the Pri­mary Health Net­work for com­mu­nity-based care and ap­plied to three key ar­eas.

“This is about how can we con­nect with older Aus­tralians to make sure no­body is sit­ting out there com­pletely iso­lated. We would hate that,” Ms Mor­gan said.

Be­yond Blue’s lead clin­i­cal ad­vi­sor and GP Dr Grant Blashki warns there will be a lot more ill­ness and death from “bor­ing things” as peo­ple choose not to get their reg­u­lar health checks with their GPs.

“I think peo­ple feel this is an ur­gent time and they shouldn’t re­ally bother their doctor,” he said.

“We are pretty wor­ried in health care as we have seen a big drop in peo­ple go­ing to ca­su­alty and to the doctor which I un­der­stand be­cause they are scared, but that’s why the deputy chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer put to­gether very quickly Tele­health.”

He said elec­tronic pre­scrip­tions for se­niors can ac­cessed through lo­cal phar­ma­cies. Many are now of­fer­ing home de­liv­ery.

Through Tele­health phone and video con­nec­tions, se­niors can also talk to their GP about set­ting up a men­tal health plan which will fa­cil­i­tate 10 Medi­care-re­bated ses­sions with a psy­chol­o­gist.

“The PHNs un­der­stand that with com­mu­nity-based ser­vices we re­ally want them to en­gage with men­tal health nurses be­cause we be­lieve they have that re­ally lovely re­la­tional com­po­nent in reach­ing out par­tic­u­larly with older Aus­tralians,” Ms Mor­gan said.

It is cer­tainly a softer way of start­ing help-seek­ing be­hav­iour be­fore pos­si­bly pro­gress­ing to talk­ing to a psy­chol­o­gist.

Sev­eral online sup­port ser­vices are also avail­able where talk­ing anony­mously with a pro­fes­sional can help start the help-seek­ing process.

One is the Fed­eral Govern­ment’s Head to Health web­site which has links to apps, online pro­grams, fo­rums and phone ser­vice in­for­ma­tion for a range of men­tal health ser­vices.

There is also a govern­ment-funded COVID-19 Helpline of­fer­ing prac­ti­cal ad­vice and help on a range of pan­demic-re­lated is­sues for se­niors, their fam­i­lies and car­ers which is free to call on 1800 171 866.

COVID-19 STRESSES: It’s OK not to be OK – and to reach out for sup­port. Pic­ture: iS­tock

Pic­ture: Con­trib­uted

Pro­fes­sor Vi­jaya Man­i­cavasagar.

Pic­ture: AAP

Dr Chris­tine Mor­gan.

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