Reach out if not OK
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
Professor Vijaya Manicavasagar.
Dr Christine Morgan.