Don’t suffer in silence during pandemic, says mental health nurse

THERE has been a rise in anxiety levels in Swan Hill in the past four to six weeks, according to Swan Hill District Health (SHDH) mental health nurse Sa'id Ware.

Mr Ware estimated there had been "a good 30 to 40 per cent increase" in people seeking mental health help, almost exclusively related to coronavirus.

"That's in the context of lockdown, people are stuck at home and in some cases have been stood down from their job," Mr Ware said.

"This isn't always people who already have anxiety. This is people who have not previously had anxiety and shouldn't have developed increased levels.

"That's really a trend we've received over the past four, five, six weeks across the board."

Mr Ware said the rise in anxiety levels was occurring in the "basic adult population" from late teens through to 60-plus years of age.

"We're seeing less of the 65-plus age group, because in a way, they have been through this before with the Second World War," he said.

"Whereas the younger generation haven't. It's all a bit overwhelming for some people."

Mr Ware said the general fear of catching the virus and a "slight paranoia" had led to the accelerated levels of anxiety, resulting in "what ifs, over-thinking and catatrophising".

"People really are scared, especially younger Australians as it's uncharted territory and they have never experienced anything like this before," he said.

Mr Ware said if people are feeling anxious due to coronavirus, the best thing to do is to seek help.

"Don't suffer in silence, put your hand up and seek help," he said.

"Don't stick your head in the sand and wait for it to get worse. Reach out and get help."

Mr Ware highlighted there are lots of online, telephone and face-to-face resources for people to get help.

"You've got places like Beyond Blue, the Black Dog Institute and Lifeline. The are places that are open 24/7 that can provide a bit of support and reassurance.

"The help is out there and it is accessible, available and it's free."

Mr Ware said he was currently conducting appointments over the phone following referrals from GPs.

"People don't have to have a referral, but that is usually how it happens," he said.

"Then it might be anything from an assessment, referring onto counselling sessions, management sessions locally or teeing up an appointment with a telehealth psychiatrist for issues around medication."

Last week, the Victorian state government announced a new commitment of $19.5 million in mental health funding in light of the pandemic.

The funds will address critical workforce shortages and support the continued roll out of suicide prevention programs.

Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley announced the cash injection ahead of a national cabinet meeting on mental health last Friday afternoon.

"Reforming our mental health system in Victoria and nationally is now more important than ever, as more people reach out for help following the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic," Mr Foley said.

"This is the best chance that all levels of government will have to not only flatten the next curve of mental ill health — but to build a better system for the long-term that will ultimately save lives."

Mr Ware said it was still too early to know how the government's commitment to mental health funding would assist in Swan Hill.

"If it finds its way to us it will be very helpful but until we get some detail, it is difficult to know whether that it will lead to extra staff or other resources," he said.

Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), Lifeline (13 11 14) or the Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).