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How to get help with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Blog post | 19 May 2020

Australia is successfully flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases, with only 9 new cases in the last 24 hours. The increase in growth of cases has dropped to 0.1% per day.

While the nation seems to be winning the war against COVID-19 infections, it’s taking a toll on other parts of people’s lives, including their mental health. The very measures that have been protecting Australians and flattening the curve — social distancing, quarantine, self-isolation, staying at home — have increased anxiety, stress and loneliness in some people.

States and territories are starting to wind back social distancing restrictions, which should bring people together and boost mental wellbeing. But life isn’t back to normal yet. In the meantime, there's help at hand.

Almost 30% of women, and 16% of men, reported 'loneliness' as a source of personal stress during April. —Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

Take advantage of telehealth

According to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, half of all mental health consultations are now being done through telehealth. Telehealth usually involves talking to a health professional on a video-call app or over the phone.

From 13 March to 30 September, mental health providers (and other health professionals, such as GPs) are able to claim Medicare rebates for telehealth services. This means that if you are a Medicare card-holder, you’ll only need to pay the ‘gap fee’ — or pay nothing at all if the practitioner bulk bills.

If you’re self-isolating or just feel more comfortable having a telehealth appointment, ask for one when you make your booking. To find a mental health provider who offers telehealth, use the healthdirect Service Finder and select 'telehealth capable' as one of your preferences.

Between early April and early May, 1 in 6 Australians aged 18 years and over used a telehealth service. Almost half said the telehealth call replaced a previously arranged face-to-face appointment. —Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

Need to talk to someone now?

You don't need to book an appointment if you need help urgently, or just want to chat with a trained mental-health professional. There are many free services and helplines available.

  • Lifeline offers free telephone counselling (24 hours a day), online support (7pm-midnight) and text support (6pm-midnight). Call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.
  • Beyond Blue offers free telephone counselling (24 hours a day) and online support (3pm-midnight). Call 1300 22 4636 or visit beyondblue.org.au.
  • Children and young adults (up to age 25) can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 to speak with a counsellor or chat on the web (in real time), 24 hours a day.
  • MensLine offers free 24-hour phone and online counselling to men. Call 1300 78 99 78 or visit mensline.org.au.

Tips for coping with COVID-19

Despite the increasing good news, you might still be worried about COVID-19 itself. Humans instinctively react to possible threats to themselves, their families and their communities. But excessive, prolonged concern and fear can impact your mental health.

Follow these tips from MindSpot for coping during the COVID-19 crisis.

  1. Get informed — with the right information. Relying on news from mainstream media or social media, which may sensationalise or exaggerate issues, can further increase stress and anxiety. Get information from trusted sources, such as government websites, the World Health Organization and reputable media such as the ABC.
  1. Understand the history of infectious diseases. Events in the past 50 years, such as tuberculosis, SARS, Ebola, HIV, hepatitis and measles, have followed a predictable course. At first, there's often scepticism, followed by attention, then panic, then reality and finally, a return to normality. Remind yourself of these patterns.
  1. Get organised. A good antidote to stress and worry is to get active and organised. If you're worried about something, do something. Make plans and write your list of what you need to buy, organise or set up, and get on with doing it.
  1. Balance your thoughts. When people get stressed about health or risks of infection, their thoughts can become dark and pessimistic. Challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself what a friend would say in the same situation, or check for evidence that you 'won't cope or can't cope'. Whenever you recognise a negative thought, balance it with a realistic thought.
  1. Shut down the noise. Stress is infectious and often unhelpful. People tend to talk about things they are worried about; this create lots of 'noise', which can create more stress. Give yourself permission to switch off 'noise' such as social media, news or radio, for some of each day. Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from people who are creating stress.

For 5 more tips like this and other resources, go to MindSpot.

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