What used to be simple now feels a lot more complicated.
When our hair needed a trim, we booked in at our favourite salon.
When we caught ourselves squinting at our computer screen, we paid a visit to our optometrist.
When we felt an ache in our jaw, we’d make an appointment with our dentist.
But now, all of the above feels like an impossible luxury.
Welcome to the new normal, where our previous way of life is largely deemed ‘non-essential’. If we’re not grabbing groceries, stocking up on medication or breaking a sweat, we’re told to stay at home. And we all acknowledge just how important it is to follow these social distancing measures.
But as much as we understand how important social distancing is to slow the spread of COVID-19, the reality of the experience can be damn challenging. A global health crisis is a once in a lifetime event and living through it alone can be a tough ask.
Charlene Neuhoff, a Sydney-based Senior Psychologist from RewireMe, has witnessed a sense of collective uneasiness among her clients in response to the Coronavirus.
“Everyone is carrying collective anxiety right now,” she tells Kin. “It’s that nervous tension you feel stepping into Coles, for example. Researchers have previously called it ‘stress contagion’ because the suffering and stress of others is contagious. COVID-19 seems to bring a timely reminder that we are all interconnected.”
This trend of heightened stress is echoed by Kayla Roze, a Registered Psychologist and Project Manager at OkToTalk. Not only are we feeling more stressed and anxious than ever before, but many of us have no idea how and where to find help when we need it most.
“We’re noticing a lot of clients don't know if they can access help amid the increasing restrictions that are being implemented. Clients aren't aware that they can get help via video, so they're worried they won't be able to see a psychologist,” says Roze.
Just as cafes and restaurants have pivoted to offer takeaway food, and fitness studios have shifted to virtual workout sessions, the health care system is still there to support us (even while we’re staying at home).
Can I still speak with a psychologist?
In short, absolutely.
Although we might not feel comfortable visiting mental health clinics, psychologists and trained health professionals are shifting their services online in accordance with new social distancing measures. As we all navigate the vast array of emotions that may come up during this uncertain time, seeking support when we feel overwhelmed is so important.
Both psychologists we’ve spoken to have shared the strategies their clinics are putting in place to keep their clients in contact with expert support during these challenging times. Expanded video services, allowing quick connection between patients and psychologists, has been a game-changer.
Skype and Zoom sessions have taken over where face-to-face interaction once reigned supreme, while some clinics are offering strict new hygiene and social distancing measures to allow patients the chance to come in the practice.
“We’ve implemented strict sanitation practices and staggered our shifts to provide ample space between clients,” says Neuhoff. “We are using our downtime to scrub everything from floor to ceiling, plus figuring out how to conduct no contact 1:1 sessions moving forward.”
How do I receive help from home?
The government’s Head to Health website offers a comprehensive overview of the range of ways Australians can access mental health support online during the outbreak of COVID-19.
If you’re looking for immediate support or would just like to chat online about feelings of stress, anxiety, isolation, loneliness or depression, you’ll find links to a range of digital mental health services listed on the website under the ‘Next Steps’ subheading. Plus, you can also consult NSW Health’s comprehensive guide to online mental health services, with an overview of all the websites, hotlines and online resources available across NSW.
Here are some quick links to the phone, chat and email services you can access:
In great news for Australians, Medicare has just introduced a temporary telehealth mental health service that enables those who are eligible to receive bulk-billed telehealth mental health support from March 13th to September 30th 2020. These video conference sessions will connect you with a trained psychologist and are available for all Australians as we navigate the mental health impacts of COVID-19.
Never seen a psychologist before? Take a look at the Australian Psychological Society’s website to find a psychologist or you can check out the Australian Clinical Psychology Association’s website to find a clinical psychologist (for more specific assessment and treatment options).
What other support services can I access from home?
On top of these telehealth services, there is a range of alternative ways to seek mental health support while at home. In fact, they’re as easy to access as your favourite social networking apps. Here are a few options you could consider:
● Lysn: an online health platform connecting individuals with trained psychologists, helping Australians find an expert that best suits their needs.
● Eheadspace: offering free online support to Australians aged 12-25, as well as offering 1-on-1 chats with trained professionals between 9am and 1am (Melbourne time) 7 days a week.
● MindSpot: a free Australian mental health service helping those experiencing anxiety, stress, depression or low mood to access online assessments and treatment options, facilitated by AHPRA-registered mental health professionals.
How to maintain good mental health during the COVID-19 crisis
Even with this support at our fingertips, there are also simple steps we can take each day to safeguard our mental health. As we continue to grapple with the uncertainty of this evolving situation, it’s important to focus on what we can control (rather than focusing on the global outbreak numbers hitting the headlines).
Luke Vu PhD, a Sydney-based psychologist for drug and online addictions, emphasises the toll such an unprecedented time can have on our mental health.
“Everything about COVID-19 is on a scale that we’re not accustomed to,” Vu explains, “The things we used to rely on to regulate our mood (such as having dinner with friends, going on holidays, feeling appreciated at work) aren’t available and it doesn’t take long before we notice negative effects on our mood and motivation.”
But Vu still believes there are practical ways we can all foster good mental health during such an uncertain time.
“I think it’s critical to have a routine, one that includes physical activity, consistent waking times and recreation,” he says. Plus, it’s a good idea to maintain a healthy distance from the headlines. “Be very deliberate with your media consumption. Being glued to the news cycle, consuming every headline and article about COVID-19 isn’t helpful. For some of us it’s an unhealthy way to cope with anxiety which could make things worse.”
Roze from OkToTalk also believes staying active and connected to our support networks is vital to ensuring good mental health during the weeks ahead. “Whether it be with the people in your house or making a video call, sending a text or writing an email, connecting with the people we love is an important protective factor against mental health concerns,” explains Roze.
“Find a style of movement that is enjoyable to you. This could mean a structured at-home workout, yoga, dancing, or a walk around the block. If you can find a way to move your body that you like, you’re more likely to stick to it and enjoy the benefits of continued physical and mental health.”
As for Neuhoff from RewireMe, her top tip for protecting our mental health?
Make sure to give yourself space and time to process your emotions.
“Giving yourself a mile-long list of self-improvements to make right now isn’t fair on yourself,” Neuhoff explains. “The pandemic isn’t the time to make yourself a project. Accept that while you’re carrying collective anxiety and have less energy (due to less activity) you are not going to be your best self. And that is ok. Just being and seeing what you can do is enough.”