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You and COVID-19: Complex mental health issues in a pandemic

You are not alone
What a start to 2020. As we all came together as a community and attempted to deal with the fallout of the bushfire crisis, none of us could have foreseen that there was another huge challenge looming on the horizon. 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is unprecedented. And it’s confusing and worrying for all of us – causing increased stress, anxiety and fear in many.

For people already living with complex mental health issues, the impact of a pandemic like this can be significant.   

Physical and psychological impacts of imposed quarantine, self-isolation, physical distancing and separation from loved ones can exacerbate or trigger the symptoms of mental health issues.  

Anxiety disorders such as health anxiety, hoarding disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia and panic disorder can be particularly affected.

Caring for ourselves and others and spreading kindness is essential if we’re to get through this period as a community.

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How to talk to your GP about your mental health

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Often when we’re struggling to cope with our mental health, people tell us: “Go and have a chat with your GP”. But what if you don’t trust your GP, haven’t seen a GP in a long time, or aren’t sure what you would say?

When people give us this advice, they’re often on the right track. GPs are a good first step – they can help us explore any underlying physical issues, and suggest different options for supporting our mental health.

But it can be really nerve wracking to make that appointment ...

How do I find a GP?

If you don’t already have a trusted GP you can visit, there are a few options:

Ask people you trust if there is a GP or medical clinic they’ve had positive experiences with. You want to find someone who’ll be non-judgmental and supportive.You can use a service like Health Direct Service Finder to find clinics convenient to you. Their website has some profiles of different GPs, so you can see if they list ‘mental health’ as an area of interest or expertise.You can also call Health Direct on 1800 022 222 to get a referral over the phone.What should I say?

It can be hard to communicate that we are struggling. We might not be used to talking about feeling vulnerable, or might battle with feelings of shame. We may also not know what kind of information is important to get across.

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The bushfire crisis - our Peer Ambassadors have their say

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Over the past few months, many of us have been affected by the bushfires that are still burning across our country. Be it emergency workers and first responders who've battled the flames, those living in fire affected areas that may have experienced direct loss, or the people that are watching on and inhaling the smoke haze - we've all felt the distress of the bushfire crisis in some way.Often if you're dealing with upsetting news, it can be helpful to speak to others who are going through the same thing. We reached out to our Peer Ambassadors to ask how the bushfire crisis has affected their mental health, and how they're coping. Here are some of their responses: 

Hannah 

"I am currently fortunate to be based in Cairns Australia where we are not directly affected by the fires. However, I have friends who have lost a great deal in the southern states and especially Kangaroo Island.

Given my history with depression and complex mental health, I am aware that I must monitor the amount of news I read and watch and continue to do things that spark joy in my life at this time. 

I put great effort to keep my focus on solutions and what I am able to contribute, both through donations and other joint efforts with the community, to help the plight of so many injured wildlife and displaced people. I find it also helps to reflect on the amazing support and donations that have been given by both Australians and so many other people from around the globe.  Every day brings new stories of great generosity and human kindness which are truly inspiring and uplifting amongst this catastrophic situation." 

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The effects of bushfires on those living with complex mental health issues

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The constant smoke haze and news reports serve as a reminder of the bushfires that still burn across Australia. Exposure to details and graphic images relating to the fires can be extremely distressing and can have a negative affect on our mental health.

The effects of such devastating events can be even more profound for vulnerable people within our communities, such as those living with complex mental health issues. People living with a mental health issue may find their symptoms return or become more intense during this time. For example, someone living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might find that graphic images trigger flashbacks to their own trauma.

When maintaining a state of wellbeing may already be a daily challenge, exposure to upsetting details of what is happening around the country can make this even more difficult.

More self-care than usual may be required in order to cope with everyday life.

If you're feeling impacted by the bushfire crisis, it might help to regain a sense of control, try to connect with others, and find comfort within your day.

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The mental health impacts of Australia's bushfire crisis

Firefighters

For people with a history of trauma, the world can feel like an unsafe place. As bushfires burn across Australia, these feelings can intensify.The mental health impacts of traumatic events like the bushfire crisis can be huge, and long lasting. For people on the front lines, fighting fires or fleeing their homes, the danger is real and visceral. But for those further removed geographically from the fires, breathing smokey air and reading harrowing media reports can also be extremely distressing and triggering.

Everyone in Australia needs mental health support during this difficult time, and we've already seen many heartwarming examples of people looking out for each other, in the spirit of mateship.

But we must also remember that the impacts of this crisis will ripple out far beyond this moment. We need robust mental health support to be available not just during an emergency, but also well into the future.

For people with a history of trauma or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this is particularly important. These people can be incredibly resilient in times of crisis, and often step in to help others in need. But after the worst is over, the delayed impact on them can be significant.

SANE Australia is committed to supporting people navigate the lasting impacts of the bushfire crisis and other traumatic events. 

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ECT and me - my pathway of recovery

This post originally appeared on Dr Deb Robert's blog here.

There is no one all ‘fixit’ for those who suffer from mental health conditions.  I’ve searched far and wide since I was a teenager for a therapy that can give me a lasting reprieve from the bouts of anxiety and depression I have suffered from for most of my life.  Whether my condition is a genetic predisposition or has developed from adverse experiences, I can’t conclude for certain but what I do know is that a combination of factors has contributed to my reality.

Traditional methods and farfetched therapies, I’ve explored them all.  I’ve seen psychologists who provide Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and I’ve seen psychiatrists who provide psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals. I’ve explored Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). I’ve tried kinesiology, chiropractic work, osteopathy and naturopathy. Acupuncture, yoga, yoga therapy and massage therapy.  Heck, I’ve even attempted equine therapy.  But, nothing has provided sustainable, long-lasting relief. 

Many of us, including me at times, have put barriers up to historically controversial therapies.  One such therapy is Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). 

For a long time, I sided with societal prejudice about ECT, so my decision to try ECT was not an easy one.

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Mourning, Coffee - A guest blog by artist, Bill Hawkins.

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Artist Bill Hawkins gives us an incredible insight into what it is like to live with mental illness, and how he has found light in art therapy. You can view Bills work, along with a range of other talented artists at The Dax Centre until June 7th.

Oh… why did I say yes to writing a blog post for Sane Australia?

I cannot be bothered! I can barely get out of bed, let alone write something. From the moment I woke up I felt terrible, I wish I was still asleep. Sitting on the cusp of lucidity, half-awake was when the metamorphosis began…

As soon as I became fully conscious I transformed into a cockroach. Commands from a higher being bled into my world, an internal daemon dictating actions to my recently animated corpse.

This spirit screams hideously terrifying things into my ears, tremendously sickening things, absolutely ghastly things like; “Get out of bed”, “Put on clothes”, “Finish that article you have been putting off” and the worst command of all… “Go to work!”.

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STIGMA: dismantled, revealed artists in conversation

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On Thursday 28 March, Julia Young, Curator at The Dax Centre, sat down with four artists from their current exhibition—STIGMA: dismantled, revealed to talk about their experience of stigma, self expression and art making.

Once the audience had indulged in cheese platters and drinks, they gathered around Cornelia Selover’s oil on board artwork, The complex heaven of a broken mind, to hear Simon Crosbie, Lucy Hotchin, Kylie Steinhardt and artist in residence Jessie Brooks-Dowsett participate in a Q&A style panel conversation.

“What are your experiences of stigma, and how do you feel we can dismantle and reveal it?,” Julia asked the artists.

“I think my own self stigma was my biggest obstacle,” Kylie said.

“Emergency room stigma from doctors, nurses and the medical system is the worst. That’s the part of the stigma that gets in your soul,” Lucy added. “The whole idea of doing well whilst experiencing mental illness—you can actually be in a state of flux and still be doing well in life.”

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Supporting Your Loved One Through A Panic Attack

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Twice a month, SANE Australia runs Topic Tuesday events on our forums. These are a chance for people around the country to come together in real time to discuss issues involving complex mental illness. Previous topics have covered everything from the side effects of medication to creating a safety plan, from supporting someone through panic attacks to sex and intimacy with a complex mental illness.

Topic Tuesday discussions are anonymous, safe, moderated by mental health professionals and free for users to take part.

The forum holds a space for a Lived Experience community and another for the Carers community and a monthly event is held in each side. In January we hosted “Supporting your loved one through a panic attack” in the Carers forum but with participation from people in both groups.

It was extremely informative to hear about panic attacks from both those having them and those observing them. Here’s a selection of perfectives from the event.

Many said the first time came as a shock:

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Parenting with Mental Health Challenges

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Topic Tuesday is a regular event on the SANE Forums where we host live discussions of specific mental health issues. Recently Belle from Parentline joined us to give advice for parents with mental health challenges. Here's some of her tips.

The life of a parent can be a busy and demanding one! You could be juggling so many potential stressors all at once, including work, family commitments, finances, and keeping up with your child’s school and social routines.

For those parents managing mental health challenges, you are managing not only your responsibilities as a parent, but your own mental health, and the complex and confronting emotions that can come with this delicate balance. No easy feat.

This being said, there are things you can do for yourself that can make parenting with a mental illness easier.

Be kind to yourself and mindful of self-expectations

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