“HUMOUR HAS ALWAYS HAD A ROLE TO PLAY THROUGH HARD TIMES. IT’S A FORM OF ESCAPE.” DR JO LUKINS
A good example of this is the viral ‘bear hunt’ that quickly became a feature around the globe. Families were encouraged to put a teddy bear in a window so that children passing by could see it when out walking.
“It was really cute,” says Dr Lukins. “But as well as the feel-good factor, at a higher level it was a recognition that others might be doing it tough and this is a way to connect and lighten the load.
“If there is one important lesson for all of us to learn from this COVID-19 time, it’s that people matter, and feeling support and a sense of connection is critical to the wellbeing of our community, which then directly influences our own wellbeing,” she says.
DOING IT TOUGH
For thousands of Australians, the lockdown caused immediate financial hardship. A recent ABC survey found that a whopping 1.6 million (8 per cent of Australian adults) lost their income. The government acted swiftly with measures such as JobSeeker and new legislation that prevented private landlords evicting tenants.
While JobSeeker was a lifeline to many, it excluded some groups altogether. Refugees and asylum seekers and those on temporary and bridging visas were not eligible for financial support. And of course, people who were already doing it tough found themselves in an even more precarious position.
Local communities stepped up to fill the gap.
Across local Facebook groups, individuals offered up care packages as well as extra meals that could be picked up by anyone in need, often with a ‘no questions asked’ clause.
There was also support in some unlikely places.
When the lockdown came into force, the Banksia Hotel in NSW started putting together food parcels and handing them out to anyone that asked for one.
“Communities come together during tough times,” says Darren Ong, manger at the Banksia.
He continues: “The feedback we have received about how the bags have helped has made it all very worthwhile, with plenty of guests commenting on how they wanted to come in and pass on their thanks and support really reinforcing our sense of community.”
For organisations that were supplying food and toiletries to those in need long before the pandemic hit, the lockdown brought a different challenge. “It was a bit strange at first, families not reaching out as much, unable to travel confidently to pick up, also anxious about anyone delivering,” says Frény Ardeshir, the founder of Sydney Food Share, a charity that collects food donations and distributes it to those in need.
But after putting out the word that help was still available, Ardeshir witnessed ‘a coming together’ of communities. “People’s awareness has certainly increased and the love and care is more obvious these days. People have stepped up and volunteered to drive for up to an hour’s distance from Sydney Food Share’s base in Stanmore, to help us get food to families and individuals in outer suburbs of Sydney,” Ardeshir tells MiNDFOOD.
For the people of Melbourne, the second lockdown, following a breach of hotel quarantine, was a real blow.
Anna Spargo-Ryan, a Melbournebased writer and the author of the upcoming mental health memoir, A Kind Of Magic (Picador), tells MiNDFOOD that there were lots of tears over the second lockdown.
“I think people found it quite devastating,” she says. “Everything was different the second time. It felt deeply serious. It was an emergency. The time for putting teddy bears in your window (that feels like a hundred years ago!) had passed. There was no energy for frivolity.”
Spargo-Ryan notes that the way Melbourne’s second lockdown unfolded added to the stress of the situation. “The lockdown of public housing buildings and the treatment of the people who lived there, was an awful start.
“It had a panicked, chaotic feeling from the beginning. Unlike the first lockdown, which was almost a jovial [connection] with your community, actions like these drew some pretty clear lines between socioeconomic groups,” she recalls.
While there was still generosity, community and empathy, SpargoRyan notes that there was also a sense of emotional exhaustion. This was especially apparent when the lockdown was extended.
“People tried to pull together, but they had nothing left to offer,” she says. “We had been in lockdown for so many weeks, many people unable to work, many without income, away from loved ones, bombarded each day with messages about how frightened we should be. There were times during that period when we definitely felt that we couldn’t do it anymore.”
There was a small silver lining though – the Victorian Government stepped up support services that assisted with basic human needs. “With the increase to government payments, subsidies and the provision of housing, people let down by the system were able to take care of themselves better than they had been in years,” says Spargo-Ryan.
“The extra subsidised sessions on a Mental Health Care Plan (from 10 to 20) were also a revelation.”
Spargo-Ryan believes that the stress of the second lockdown will have a lasting impact.
“I think there’s a kind of trauma that will be revealed from these lockdowns. Melburnians are sitting on trip wires – we’ve had two lots of new cases (most notably the ‘Black Rock cluster’) and, each time they’ve been announced, the despair has been palpable,” she says.
“We’re tired. I don’t think people in other Australian cities can understand how tired.”