Mental health effect of COVID real, but support still available

Mental health effect of COVID real, but support still available

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REACH OUT: Rural and Remote Mental Health CEO Joe Hooper says taking early prevention steps could help mitigate some of the emotional impacts of the pandemic.

REACH OUT: Rural and Remote Mental Health CEO Joe Hooper says taking early prevention steps could help mitigate some of the emotional impacts of the pandemic.

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COMMUNITY connections are going to be a big part of dealing with the mental health legacy of COVID-19, according to a mental health organisation.

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COMMUNITY connections are going to be a big part of dealing with the mental health legacy of COVID-19, according to a mental health organisation.

Rural and Remote Mental Health chief executive office Joe Hooper said the past few months of restrictions had been tough for those in regional and remote areas, especially on the back of bushfires and drought.

He said many regional communities may have considered it "business as usual" due to their relative isolation, but there were different pressures to those experienced in metropolitan areas, such as disrupted supply chains that could then severely impact both their business and their ability to access basic necessities.

Mr Hooper said another aspect felt more strongly in regional areas was a potential "stigma" for people who may have contracted the disease - in some parts of regional Australia there were even reports of "bullying", although these had stopped.

He said all this would be having a long-term impact on the mental health of some people, especially as it coincided with the reduction of some support services, particularly those aimed at early intervention and prevention.

"The mental health impacts don't go away just because a state might go two months without a positive case - this will have a long tail end," he said.

Mr Hooper said one of the biggest impacts on mental health had been the loss of social connections, which often made it harder to identify the signs that someone might be struggling.

"Some early signs might be someone being distracted or withdrawing, and in the normal day-to-day run of the town, people might notice, but with the pub shut, it can be hidden," he said.

Mr Hooper said the RRMH team had put together the Kind Minds program to help encourage people to reach out to support others, with it also having secondary benefits for those helping.

"We need to make sure we keep talking to those around us - if you do need help, help is available," he said.

Mr Hooper said they had moved some of their early prevention information on mental health literacy onto their website, including the Rural Minds program, aimed at farming communities.

Monash University Rural Mental Health lecturer Keith Sutton said early results from a survey looking at the mental health impact of COVID-19 showed of the 1500 respondents, people were reporting increasing levels of anxiety and depression, along with other symptoms associated with ill mental health at higher levels than would generally be expected.

"But the way people reported they were coping with the situation seemed make a difference to the issues reported," he said.

Dr Sutton said those people who reported they were getting angry or attempting to distract themselves reported poorer mental health, while others who accepted the situation and "got on and dealt with it" generally had lower levels of stress.

"People who were looking at the situation as an opportunity to do other things or make a change, and had a positive frame, showed less signs of depression," he said.

The survey, which is being carried out as a joint project between the Monash University School of Rural Health and the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, is analysing the data from the second round of the survey, with future data expected to compare urban and rural experiences, as well as those between states and socio-economic backgrounds.

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Premier's Advocate for Suicide Prevention John Dawkins said the past few months had required some adjustments, with some regional planning meetings cancelled, but most of the Suicide Prevention Networks had continued to meet virtually.

He said because these were local networks, they had been able to use their local knowledge to keep in contact with those in need and other organisations.

But Mr Dawkins said groups were still facing a lot of pressures, particularly those also dealing with the impacts of drought or bushfires.

"Some of the impacts in the mental health space can take a while to emerge," he said.

"There is the initial support and adrenaline and the natural aspects of resilience, but it's when time moves on, that the pressure can build."

He said these local networks were still working to ensure they could support their communities through this time.

SA Health was contacted for comment.

COVID HALTs EP mental health events

Plans for a series of events on Eyre Peninsula this month have had to be postponed as a guest speaker was unable to cross the border from Melbourne.

HALT Eyre Peninsula project worker Kylie Clothier said the mental health organisation had planned a series of events, including their 'Save Your Bacon brekkies' through Whyalla, Cowell, Cleve and Kimba with co-founder Jeremy Forbes and I Am Not Afraid to Talk's Jeremy Edwards but the restrictions on the border have stopped Mr Forbes from being able to attend.

She said the goal of these events had been to bring people together and reiterate where people could seek help for themselves or a friend.

"Help doesn't necessarily have to be face to face, there are places on social media or over the phone," she said.

Ms Clothier said there are a number of resources available to help people, even in rural communities, such as Headspace, Country and Outback Health Centres, the Suicide Prevention Networks or even local healthcare centres.

  • Details: Contact Kylie at ep@halt.org.au to find out about other local services on Eyre Peninsula.

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