For mental health month, Fund My Challenge chatted with charity partner, White Cloud Foundation to discuss all things mental health during a pandemic.
White Cloud have generously put together some invaluable information, insights and practical tips so please take the time to read, share and follow the critical work they do.
Q: As a mental health orientated organisation, how have you seen COVID-19 (lockdowns, restrictions etc) impact the community?
A: There are many issues and challenges we have all had to face over the past 18mths – from when we were just grappling with this new term COVID to enduring multiple lockdowns! But under riding all of it has been uncertainty – uncertainty of what will happen both personally, for our family, our community, us as a nation and ultimately, as a global society. Initially, those uncertainties were around how Australia would be affected; how many cases and deaths; how would health system manage, how would our lives be disrupted, Now, it’s about vaccination rates and when will we open up and how will we cope when we do, and for some, how they will manage coming out of lockdown!
A pandemic of this nature is something we have not seen for 100 years and so for many of us, we do not have a template or indeed, an understanding of what to expect. It has touched all of us in some way. Whether it has compromised or challenged the way we work or indeed, if we could work, or if we could continue to go to school, to TAFE, to our apprenticeship, or to uni. Things that we once took for granted, are now prized or longed for – meeting up with friends, going to a gym class, theatre, concert or cinema, attending a wedding or mourning at a funeral, taking that holiday to visit relatives interstate, little own overseas. For many, the psychological, physical, and emotional toll, has been substantial and the mental exhaustion overwhelming. This has been particularly true for young people where the levels of psychological distress remain high.
The proportion of people experiencing severe psychological distress also continued to be higher in April 2021 (9.7%) than in February 2017 (8.4%).(AIHW, 2021)
Lock down Fatigue::is not only the physical and emotional fatigue of those living and working in areas experiencing restrictions due to community related COVID cases but can also be experienced by people in states or regions where there may be no or few positive COVID cases but where long-term restrictions such as border closures have had a significant impact upon personal and work related freedoms. COVID lockdown fatigue is a state experienced where every aspect of their life, have been impacted for long periods of time, sometimes with no end in sight until the magic vaccine percentage has been reached!.
Some of the symptoms of lockdown fatigue include:
• short temper with outbursts of frustration, anger and irritability
• anxiety and fear
• physical exhaustion and burnout
• difficulty focusing, prioritising, problem-solving and making decisions
• lack of motivation and reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities
Anxiety about life after lockdown: Returning to life after lockdown may bring a sense of relief but also a feeling of apprehension. People may worry about their risk of catching COVID-19 but also feel anxious about whether they will be able to go back to ‘normal’. Take your time readjusting to post-lockdown life and focus on relationships and where you want to head. You may find it helpful to weigh up the pros and cons of re-establishing old routines and what really is important to you, your life, and your values! Take your time, don’t rush it! Whilst we can’t predict the future and what twists and turns there may be, we can focus on being present both for ourselves and those in our circle. Don’t let the ‘coulds’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘what ifs’, rule you! In the here and now!
Q: Globally 700,000 people have lost their lives to suicide, what are some tips to help the community identify those at risk and how can they help those at risk, including themselves.
A: The Black Dog Institute has done a great deal of work in this area and have provide some very useful information about identifying the warning signs and what you can do to help prevent suicide or self harm. (The following information is drawn from the Suicide and Self harm online web pages)
When people are thinking about ending their life, there are sometimes signs you may notice. They may be feeling distraught and can’t see a way out of their problems.
If you’re worried that someone is thinking about taking their own life, it’s important to talk to them. Talking to people can reduce stigma and encourage them to seek help,
Don’t ignore threats of suicide. When people express suicidal thoughts, these need to be taken seriously. Even if you’re not sure, it’s better to help straight away than to be unsure and not act at all. Talk to the person and get professional advice from others.
A person’s behaviour may also change for example some signs may include:
- sleep changes (too much sleep or too little)
- withdrawing from family and friends
- loss of interest in things
- changes in eating
- irritability, being moody or easily upset
- self-harming (e.g. cutting)
- putting affairs in order, giving things away, saying goodbyes, writing suicide notes or goodbye letters
- risky behaviour (e.g. consuming excessive alcohol or other drug use)
- decreased academic or work performance
- mentioning or joking about suicide, death or dying
They may express a range of feelings like hopelessness, depression, anger and irritability, distress worthlessness, or that there is no way out of the problem or no reason for living.
The four steps for suicide prevention:
If you’re worried about someone having suicidal thoughts, you should ACT IMMEDIATELY by taking the following steps.
- Be direct. Ask them, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’
- Don’t be afraid to ask. It shows that you care.
- Asking decreases risk – it shows someone is willing to talk about it.
- Most people thinking about suicide don’t necessarily want to die – they need someone to help them. This suggests that most people who survive will go on to lead fulfilling lives thanks to timely support and healthcare interventions.
2| Listen and stay
- Listen to the person you’re worried about. It may encourage them to open up.
- Take what they say seriously.
- Don’t leave them alone.
- Check their safety. Make sure there is nothing they can use to harm themselves (such as a weapon, car, drugs, medicines).
3| Get help
If you recognise someone is depressed and/or anxious and you are worried about their condition escalating into suicidal thoughts:
- Call White Cloud Tele-Mental Health on 07 3155 3456. You can either speak to our mental health experts about how to deal with the person or have the person call and start receiving treatment and support from the multi-disciplinary team of mental health clinicians via phone or video conferencing.
If someone is in crisis or their life is in immediate danger:
- Call Emergency on 000
- OR: Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
- OR: Take them straight to Emergency at a hospital
- If you can get in immediately, see a GP or psychologist.
Even if danger is not immediate, the person needs support to work through their problems. Encourage them to get help and to seek support and more information. They can call White Cloud Tele-Mental Health or visit their existing healthcare professionals.
4| Follow up
- Make sure you follow up and check on the person often.
- Showing that you care can make a difference.
- Make sure the right professional people are aware of what’s going on.
- Remember, you don’t have to take on all of this responsibility by yourself. It’s important for you to have a strong support network.
Q: Globally 264 million people suffer from depression, what are some measures people can put in place to reduce their risk of developing depression?
A: Resilience is often an overused terms but it’s true that when we are feeling in control and on top of things, if something doesn’t go to plan we cope and manage it better than when we are at a low ebb, tired, out of energy, stressed or anxious. That’s why its important to check in with yourself, keep tabs on how you are traveling and take time to look after yourself. But don’t wait till you are running on empty, you need to continually top up and boost those happy hormones. For example:
- Yoga, sitting in the sun (in a safe way of course!), spending time in nature and achieving a goal or specific task can all boost our Serotonin levels (love/contentment hormone).
- Laughter, moving your body, being creative and dark chocolate (in moderation!) increase our level of endorphins (the pain killer hormone).
- Dinner or playing a board game or charades with friends or family (even over zoom!), dancing and giving a complement or a hug (more challenging in the time of COVID) increases our mood stabiliser hormone Oxytocin.
- Finally, we can improve our sense of reward and motivation (Dopamine) by simple activities like listening to music, moving around, getting good quality sleep and eating enough protein!
(adapted from QHealth, Metro North e-publication Oct. 2021)
Q: Can you tell us five easy ways to improve a person’s mental health?
A: Some ideas (more than five!) for managing during this difficult COVID time (Adapted from the Australian Psychological Society Client information resources):
- Recognise and try to accept that although you want to return to some sort of normality, this is only possible when it is safe.
- Acknowledge your feelings and reactions and try not to be critical or judgemental particularly of yourself. Keeping a journal, doing meditation or other relaxation, or talking through our feelings with someone you trust, can help you recognise and understand your reactions.
- Be kind to yourself (and others). Accept that you may be more tired, not as productive or motivated as usual, and that you may have a shorter fuse and be more irritable.
- Try to create and stick to a routine. It’s common to feel tired and unmotivated when you’re not in your usual schedule, so it’s important to create a routine for your sleep, meals, work, rest and exercise. If you are working from home, take timeout and schedule regular breaks to get fresh air and relax.
- Connect with family, friends, and colleagues. We are social beings, so one of the hardest impacts of the COVID-19 for you may have been the restrictions on your social contact with people. If this is the case, make the most of technology, whether it be the phone or computer, to speak and/or see the important people in your life on a regular basis.
- Make the most of any opportunities to communicate, such as chatting over the back fence or balcony with a neighbour, speaking to a passer-by.
- Spend time relaxing. Do the things you enjoy, whether it be listening to music, reading, watching movies, gardening, working on your family history, playing games, or doing puzzles, craftwork or painting.
- Try to balance your negative thoughts with positive ones, to focus on the present and try not to worry about what you cannot control.
- Seek additional help when needed – there are a lot of terrific evidence based Australian online and phone based health and wellbeing programs and support services including White Cloud. The Commonwealth Head to Health Site is a great place to start https://www.headtohealth.gov.au/
- Make sure you look after yourself and build in some of the following into your routine:
- eat sensibly
- get regular exercise and keep active
- sleep well – try and keep to a routine and prioritise sleep, as the body needs good sleep to restore itself
- drink plenty of water
- get fresh air and sun (safely) if possible.
Q; Can you share any solution-focused/ positive insights or results from the work White Cloud facilitates?
A: White Cloud Foundation offers services that provide both practical and clinical support and treatment for people battling depression and/or anxiety.
Launched in 2016, our Meals for Mums services provides home-delivered, nutritious meals to new or pregnant mums who have either developed, or are at risk of developing, perinatal depression. These meals support the mother in their time of need by making sure they receive the nutrition they need to cope, and to alleviate the pressure of having to buy and prepare food for themselves and the family.
To receive our service, mothers must be referred to us via hospitals, psychologists, medical practices or other facilities and government services such as Perinatal Well Being, Pregnancy Counselling Link and Child Health.
We experienced a 103% increase in the number of meals delivered in 2020 compared to 2019 because of COVID. There were simply more new and pregnant mothers struggling with depression and anxiety due to isolation from friends and families (particularly those who could not be with their own mothers due to border closures or being from overseas), financial stress due to job losses, anxiety about themselves or their baby catching the virus and general anxiety about what the future holds.
Because of the increasing incidences of depression and anxiety resulting from the pandemic, White Cloud Foundation then launched its own Tele-Mental Health service in August 2021.
This service is designed to provide easier access to clinical treatment and support for depression and anxiety. A person struggling simply needs to pick up the phone and make that first call. They will then be scheduled appointments with our team of clinicians.
Unlike Lifeline, we are not a crisis hotline. We aim to help a person before they reach crisis point.
Unlike other mental health services, we also provide more than counselling. We aim to treat a person’s depression and/or anxiety from multiple angles and have a team of multidisciplinary allied health clinicians who facilitate that. Our team of Counsellors, Social Workers, Dietitians, Psychologists, Exercise Physiologists and others will ensure work through all the building blocks for positive mental health. They will look at how the person is eating and sleeping; are they exercising; how are their relationships; are they stressed about finances, etc.
Our aim is to provide a person battling depression with someone to connect to for support. Our aim is to also ensure they can access this connection at the right time (before they are suicidal) and from a place they feel comfortable (like their own home). Most importantly, our aim to take a ‘whole-of-person’ approach to treating depression and anxiety and provide them with the right strategies to they can, in turn, help themselves and flourish!
White Cloud Tele-Mental Health is a free service and is open to everybody, no matter when they live. No GP referral or Mental Health Plan is required. To access the service, you simply need to call 07 3155 3456 during business hours.
To find out more visit whitecloudfoundation.org or follow them on @whitecloudfoundation
If you would like to start a fundraising challenge for White Cloud Foundation or simply donate, download the Fund My Challenge app or visit the website and find challenges to support.