BEFORE the pandemic, one in five Australians experienced mental illness, but due to the uncertainty and instability around coronavirus (COVID-19), there is a potential for the number of people seeking support to rise.
South West Healthcare (SWH) have been assisting locals needing support during the crisis and are one of the region’s largest publicly funded support services employing psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists.
SWH Hamilton community mental health services team leader, Praveen Premnath said over the last few months, they had seen an increase in people seeking support for their mental health.
“Over the last few months we have definitely seen a slight increase in people seeking the necessary support systems, that could be for a range of reasons such as other support systems have reduced their face-to-face sessions and hours such as the NDIS,” he said.
“Although we haven’t seen a major increase in people seeking assistance, we can still see an increase and it is possible that it may continue to increase over time.”
Mr Premnath said the first step for someone identifying mental illness should be to see a GP.
“We are the designated mental health available in the region, we have campuses in Hamilton, Portland and the main services is in Warrnambool,” he said.
“The first step is chatting to your local GP; they should be your first point of contact.
“They usually can assess the seriousness and severity of the issue and from there, they will take the appropriate action, some people might need a mental health service like ourselves and such.
“If they don’t have a local GP, people can still access our triage service over the phone and the clinician will organise an assessment, but if the available information doesn’t indicate the need for further assessment they might give other options to other services.”
LOCAL mental health advocate, Leonie Neylon said given the current climate, it has never been more important to stay mentally healthy.
“We are all more or less in the same boat of either not being able to work due to business closures, being elderly, a student or if an essential worker like myself, being told we need to adhere to social distancing rules can be awfully unnatural for us to do,” she said.
“To have to stay home and not have the physical contact, with family, friends, lovers, colleagues or just the general community, goes against human nature for most people.”
Ms Neylon said it is important to stay connected with loved ones via online tools and devices.
“We need to use what tools and devices are available to us,” she said.
“So, using our phones to make calls whether by voice, Facetime, Zoom, House party or any other app that may help you overcome that sense of isolation, but knowing that over use of screen time can affect mood and sleep,” she said.
“Not everyone has access to devices like my elderly parents in Ballarat, so it is even more important to call them often to check in on them to have that verbal activity.”
Ms Neylon said there are support systems in the community for people struggling.
“It has never been more important to keep mentally well and if this is becoming a struggle or you are not coping, call your GP, go to your local mental health service or emergency department,” she said.
“Loneliness and feeling unsure about when restrictions are to be lifted, thus turning into being anxious and even finding that depression is creeping in, is due to now having a lot more time to sit and think about this situation we are all finding ourselves in and missing people.
“I am one of many who although lucky enough to be working, still find it hard to go to an empty household at night.
“The feeling can be quite overwhelming, and I have made the effort to be mindful of when I am feeling extra anxious or unsettled by the lack of physical contact with my family and friends.”
Ms Neylon said while it is important to keep up to date with COVID-19 information, it is crucial to have the ability to switch off.
“Just limit maybe how often you are reading about the death toll and more about how to keep yourself and everyone else safe by following the hygiene and social distancing rules,” she said.
Ms Neylon also suggested taking up new hobbies during the pandemic along with maintaining routines.
“I have recently been given a border collie pup from my sister to care for and this has been great for my mental wellness as I was finding myself not getting out,” she said.
“Even in not so nice weather, if there is break, I will get out.
“Although I am committed to having a pet for life as it is a huge responsibility, please don’t go out and get yourself a pet just because you are bored.
“I love to cook and will pop on my true crime podcast and bake away the day.
“Weekends are hardest for most so if we can keep ourselves occupied during the day, with a hobby you love or finding a new one, then making time in the evening for chats.
“Meditations in the back garden, gardening, starting a garden, cleaning the shed out.
“Most importantly, be kind to yourself and then to others. Appreciate the little things around you right now. Find it. They are there.”
IF you feel you need additional support, all local mental health professionals are in constant contact to provide the best care possible for the region.
Locally, GP’s are available at Hamilton Medical Group, Hamilton Family Practice, The Holistic GP and Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation.
The SWH mental health services team can be contacted on 5551 8418 and their after-hours emergency response service can be reached by calling 1800 808 284.
Other agencies that can help are Lifeline telephone counselling on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service, 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
Beyond Blue also offers online discussion forums via their website.