Top 3 questions – Staying positive, social anxiety, and support for health workers

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ruth Vine, answers the top three questions you've been asking on our social accounts around mental health.

Date published:
General public

Good morning. My name’s Ruth Vine. I’m the deputy chief medical officer for mental health, and I’m really pleased to be with you this morning. This week, I’m answering some of your questions about mental health and wellbeing - yours and particularly with some about children and young people. And to that end, I just want to do a bit of a shout-out today to some of our many professionals and volunteers who work with the mental health support lines and the staff who support those people. I have to say the demand on our mental health service support lines has been huge during COVID. We’re still seeing quite significant rises compared with two years ago, and perhaps to just give you a bit of an example of that: Just in the sort of month of February, Lifeline had something like 87 calls, Kids Helpline, 24,500, and Beyond Blue, well over...almost 22,000. So, people are really reaching out for help, and that’s absolutely appropriate, and services are set up to do that.

So, first question: “The pandemic seems to just keep going. "I’m not in crisis but it is a challenge to stay positive. "What can I do to keep going?” Well, look, the first thing I have to say is: It has been a tough two years, and you’re not alone if you’ve feeling just a bit sort of weary and over it! You know, things feeling tougher, and getting the energy up is tougher and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is tougher. Having said that, we are in a better place. We do know that the numbers in hospitals in most states, not in all states, but the numbers in hospitals is going down. We do know our kids are back at school, and that sort of routine of life is returning to...closer to what we would think of normal. So, it’s very understandable that you do feel a bit sort of ‘bleurgh’, but it's also...I think you can be hopeful that things are going to look up. So, some really common sense, basic things. Firstly, be nice to yourself. Give yourself time, and when you know that there are things you enjoy doing, make sure you give yourself time to do those things. Make sure you structure your day as best as you can, eat well, rest well, and, you know, reach out for help when you need it. And I’m not talking about reaching out for professional help, but just staying connected with those who you feel understand you,those who you feel you have a sort of sympathy with and get along well with. And of course, if you do feel stuck, reach out more professionally. So, you’re not alone. We all but many of us feel very weary, and I think our energy levels will come back.

The next question I have: “I want to reconnect with friends and family, "but I am suddenly anxious to be around people "and I’m avoiding social situations. What can I do?” Well, again, not at all uncommon for people to be anxious in our current circumstances, and sometimes when the things we want, like going back to school or being able to mix, also come with a degree of fear and uncertainty. So, for this one, my absolute advice is to stay informed, get good information from trustworthy sources, and let yourself think through and talk through what you might be worried about. So, say, for example, if you’re worried, “If I go out, will I catch COVID?” Well, no one can say for certain, many of the things, whether you will or won’t, but you can say, “I’ll socially distance. "I’ll wear my mask in crowded places. "I’ll make sure I maintain my personal hygiene. "And by the way, I know I’m vaccinated.” So, you can just sort of talk through some of these things, and I think if you are anxious about social situations, again, use the people you trust, and get together with them and say, “Look, can we start with a quiet walk in the park? "or start with something that… "I'm not going to go straight back into a movie theatre "or straight back into public transport. Let’s take things easily." And most often, we can manage those sort of stressors. If you need some additional resources, platforms like Head to Health or Beyond Blue… Beyond Blue have got a specific coronavirus section.  There are a lot of resources online that can again help you work through what your fears might be and challenge some of those fears and give you some steps to get around that. So I’m… go well.

And my third question, “What support is available for our health professionals "that are looking after everyone during this pandemic?” What a great question, and again, my absolute admiration and thanks to those who work in health. Lots of people have signalled their concern about health workers, and way back early in the pandemic, there were some additional resources that were put in place, so The Essential Network, run through the Black Dog Institute, is a really good option that has had over, I think, nearly 70,000 unique users, and it gives you both digital resources but also the option of online or face-to-face support. There are other things like DRS4DRS which are equally set up... They were set up by the Australian Medical Association to help doctors, medical staff and their families. But also, there's the usual self-care things, trying to manage workload, trying to make sure that when you do have time off, you're doing some of those things that you enjoy - even having a little break from the family and giving time just for you. So, there are resources, and I do think the pressures on the health system have been there for a very long time, got very much worse during COVID. I can’t say that they’re going to suddenly ease, but I do think people are getting better at caring for themselves. Thank you.

Top 3

  1. The pandemic seems to just keep going. I’m not in crisis but it is a challenge to stay positive. What can I do to keep going?
  2. I want to reconnect with friends and family, but I am suddenly anxious to be around people and I’m avoiding social situations. What can I do?
  3. What support is available for our health professionals that are looking after everyone during this pandemic?

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