The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we all live our lives.
Our freedom to move around and socialise with friends and family has been restricted by social distancing, social isolation and quarantine.
Some people have lost their jobs and are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic. Others may be working from home while many children are home schooling.
Some groups within our community may be more susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19 including those with a pre-existing mental illness or those experiencing family violence.
We are also seeing greater police presence on our streets and empty supermarket shelves as a result of panic buying and hoarding.
Public anxiety about COVID-19 can sometimes lead to discrimination and scapegoating of particular communities, health professionals and public officials.
We may be worried about family overseas and are unable to easily travel to support them especially if they are unwell.
At the moment the mainstream media and social media are dominated by information about COVID-19. It is natural to want to know as much as we can about the pandemic however this may also increase our anxiety levels.
While it is important to be well informed about the pandemic we can limit our media exposure to once or twice a day and still stay informed. Seek out trustworthy sources of information in Australia and overseas such as SBS, the ABC or other national broadcasters and government websites. Browse social media wisely.
Fear of COVID-19 and the changes we have had to make in our lives due to the pandemic can impact on our wellbeing.
We may be more vulnerable to mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, depression and somatization (where our mental distress may make us feel physically unwell).
Some people may deal with their distress by engaging in unhealthy behaviours such as excessive alcohol use, drug use or gambling.
Those who have COVID-19 may experience stigma from the community.
Some of these issues may be long lasting and persist after the pandemic has ended.
For some people COVID-19 may not impact on mental health in a negative way. We may be spending more quality time with our families and be feeling less pressure from external sources.
Some people from CALD communities may be more vulnerable to the mental health impacts of COVID-19 because the stressors brought about by the circumstances of migration and resettlement issues may be exacerbated.
Those of us with pre-existing or untreated mental health issues may be more vulnerable to the mental health impacts of COVID-19. Fear and uncertainty associated with pandemic may trigger memories of traumatic experiences for people from refugee backgrounds.
There may be increased pressure across generations if we are concerned about and unable to visit and support our family in Australia and overseas.
Although there is a range of multilingual information about COVID-19 available if our first language is not English it may be difficult to know where to find accurate information about COVID-19. Click here to go to a list of trustworthy multilingual resources about COVID-19 put together by TMHC.
Public fear about COVID-19 can manifest as discrimination, stigmatization, and scapegoating of some CALD communities.
Feeling some anxiety about COVID-19 and the changes it has brought to our lives is normal. None of us know how long the epidemic will last and what the ongoing impact will be. It is natural to be concerned about the unknown.
Some worry may even help us to behave in ways that keep us and others safe. For example, we may be more careful about washing our hands frequently or observing social distancing, which can help to lessen the spread of COVID-19 within the community.
If someone you know is feeling anxious about COVID-19, listen to them, and let them know that you are concerned about them. Show that you respect their point of view. Support them by being available but create space to allow them to take things at their own pace. Provide practical support. Encourage them to seek professional help if necessary and be realistic about what you can offer or promise.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it begins to affect our daily functioning or impacts on our relationships, parenting, work performance or ability to focus. Some people may turn to substance abuse and gambling to cope, while others may think, speak about or attempt to harm themselves.
If you suspect that your anxiety or someone else’s anxiety is becoming an issue seek professional help.
Your GP can be a good first point of contact to discuss mental health issues.
Beyond Blue has set up a Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service to provide advice and support at this time. Call the support line on 1800 512 348
You can also call the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511
If there is an emergency where you or someone else is at immediate risk of harming yourself call 000.
It is natural to be concerned about family overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reassure yourself by keeping in contact with loved ones overseas. Understand that health authorities throughout the world are working to control the virus and that most cases of COVID-19 are mild.
One way of staying mentally healthy is to try to maintain a sense of perspective by challenging unhelpful thoughts and not getting ahead of yourself. Do not assume that something bad will happen, overestimate how bad the consequences will be or underestimate your ability to cope. Be mindful of what is important by focusing on today rather than worrying about the future.
You can take practical steps to help maintain your mental health. Stay connected to family, friends, school and community and provide structure to your day. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating healthily, exercising regularly, getting a good night’s sleep and relaxing by doing things that you enjoy such as reading a book or taking up a hobby.
Many of us are spending more time with our family or housemates as we self isolate than we usually do. While this has many positive impacts such as enabling us to spend more time with our children, there can be challenges.
When in isolation with others spend time together and seek support from one another.
Share positive emotions and experiences, rather than anger, frustration and disappointment and remain respectful of each other in times of conflict.
Set up a roster for household tasks so that everyone knows what is expected.
Self isolation during COVID-19 can be particularly challenging if you live alone. You may feel lonely and worry about our own health. If you live alone, keep in regular contact with friends and family. Take advantage of technology to keep in touch. Create a daily routine and set small goals for yourself. Stay active and if possible go outside to exercise a little each day. If you feel you are not coping talk to your GP or a mental health professional.
If a family member or friend is living alone you can help them by remaining in close contact. If possible use technology to keep in touch or simply call them regularly or write them a letter or note. If they are older or in another risk group and are in self isolation offer to assist them by grabbing some groceries for them. Put them in touch with organisations such as seniors’ groups that are providing online activities for those in isolation.
Working from home can be challenging if you are not used to doing so. It may be difficult to stay focused and maintain a sense of purpose. To help maintain your mental health while working from home set up a dedicated workspace and establish a work schedule. Change out of your pyjamas each morning! Try to limit distractions but keep in touch with your colleagues. Take appropriate breaks and stop working at the end of your work-day.
The changes to their lives brought about by the COVID-19 epidemic and the constant media focus on coronavirus can be worrying for some children while others will not be concerned.
Do not be afraid to talk to your children about COVID-19. Find out what your child already knows about COVID-19 so that you can address any inaccuracies. Speak to them in a calm reassuring tone using language they can understand and stick to the facts. Provide them with a level of detail appropriate to their age. Try to limit your child’s exposure to media and social media about COVID-19.
Be aware that the changes brought about by COVID-19 may impact on your child’s school performance and do not place too much pressure on them.
Remember the COVID-19 pandemic will not last forever. We can prepare ourselves for coming out of this period.
Coming out of the pandemic will be a gradual process, social restrictions may slowly ease, initially children may return to school one or two days a week and we may return to our workplaces on a part-time basis, shops, restaurants and cafes will open gradually. Some things such as international travel may not return to normal for some time.
Take things day by day, continue to follow public health advice and do not expect everything to return to the way it was before the pandemic immediately. Understand that although restrictions may be easing in Australia they may remain in place for longer in other countries.
Be aware that the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 virus may linger after the threat of the virus abates. For some coming out of the pandemic will bring about changes that will also impact on mental health. Continue to take care of your mental health and seek professional advice for yourself or others if symptoms escalate.