With the global scale of COVID-19 and the way it infiltrates every aspect of society, it is hard for anyone to escape from the mental health impacts of the pandemic. Within Latrobe there is a heightened awareness of the need for people to look after their own mental wellbeing and to look out for others.
There has been a fundamental shift in the home environment, which is now also a workplace and for many local families, a school. The volume of change within businesses, workplaces, community settings and health services is immense.
Latrobe communities have demonstrated their resilience and an ability to cope and although there is more work to be done advances in telehealth have resulted in greater and more convenient access to help for those that need it.
People are sharing feelings of a loss of independence; they are feeling constrained and struggling to establish a routine. They want to ‘keep going’ physically and mentally. They have said that they feel ‘invisible’.
Business owners are experiencing increased anxiety and financial stress. They are somewhat overwhelmed by the rate of change and never-ending media. They are unsure about how to protect their staff and customers and concerned about their future.
People are worried about COVID-19 stigma and judgement within the community. They are concerned about how this can manifest on social media and the negative mental health impact this may have.
Local lawyers are concerned about limitations on visits to the hospital and the increased vulnerability of mental health patients. They have said that gaining access to clients is now difficult.
Tensions are starting to emerge in households as people try to manage work and schooling, or have their alcohol or drugs delivered to their homes. There is less opportunity for people to escape or have time away from others. People may be feeling overwhelmed for the first time and may not be used to those feelings which can be debilitating.
The local university is concerned about the mental wellbeing of their staff and students including first year and international students now living in isolation. University students are adapting to online classes; however, they are suffering without incidental supports such as interactions with teachers and peers and access to books.
Home schooling is affecting people and impacting their work commitments. Employers are offering flexibility where they can. In some households this is working, in others, people are feeling pressured and tired.
For many, houses are now a workplace, place of education and a home. This can be difficult for families and single parents. There are stresses on interpersonal relationships with partners working from home with no outlet or separation. They are experiencing a loss of lifestyle.
People are longing for physical connection with others and feeling the mental health impacts of isolation. They have said, “you don’t get touch and hugs through a screen”.
Community members have reflected on the global impact of COVID-19 and shared their appreciation for the situation in Australia. They have expressed concerns for people who are suffering. They have to limit how much television they watch. Some people are feeling impacted by having too much screen time. They are missing the incidental opportunities to network and build relationships with others.
Some people have been busier than usual, despite spending more time at home. They have said they ‘are waiting for things to slow down’.
A local secondary school surveyed its year 11 and 12 students about the impacts of COVID-19;
- More than 50% students found learning in a remote environment more difficult than learning at school. The main reasons for this were ‘less support from your teacher’ and ‘less motivation’.
- High numbers of students said that their sleeping patterns have been affected and that their social interactions with friends have been affected.
- Approximately 40% of year 12 students and close to 50% of year 11 students said their mental health has been affected.
Concerns have been raised about the lack of awareness and supports for people suffering from mental illness, particularly for older people. There is a desire for more psychologists to be available for mental health inpatients to help people talk through their feelings and to achieve a greater sense of control over their life.
People have talked about the toll that financial stress can have on their mental health. Some people are focused on getting through one day at a time and find motivation in their children.
Opportunities for work and to earn a living can determine how families spend their time, what supports and activities they access and how they are feeling. Some of the coping strategies people have talked about include going for a walk and dreaming about the future.