Wherever you’re based, we’re all feeling the strain under a year of unforeseen pressures, adjustments and challenges due to the coronavirus outbreaks. As Victoria’s State of Disaster continues and Sydney’s COVID-19 cases continue to climb, the nation is preparing itself for the longevity of the COVID-19 threat.
This can be incredibly taxing on our mental health or the health of our loved ones, as we don’t have certain ends in sight or clear forecasts for our lives.
It’s now six months since the pandemic began interfering with Australian life, and the consequences of lockdowns, restrictions and the ongoing anxiety associated with a pandemic mean that public mental health in Australia is under assault. The long-term impact of the current hardships on mental health can’t yet be calculated, but are doubtless wide-ranging. The strain of lockdown is having measurable effects on rates of mental wellbeing for many, many Australians- and at the most extreme end of the spectrum of dangerous behaviours such as spikes in substance abuse, suicide, and domestic violence.
That’s why it’s never been more important for Australians to stay on top of their mental health, and seek support where needed. With that in mind, we’ve put together a complete guide to seeking counselling and psychological support, however large or small your worries.
- Medicare Expands Subsidised Therapy for Australians
- What Constitutes a Crisis?
- Therapists and Counsellors
- How to Choose the Right Help?
- Different Ways to Support Your Health
Medicare expands subsidised therapy for Australians living under restrictions
Acknowledging the toll lockdowns are having on mental health, the Federal Government’s has announced that Australians living under lockdown restrictions will be eligible for 10 additional Medicare-subsidised therapy sessions under a Mental Health Care Plan. This means you can extend your current plan if necessary, but only after a quick review with your GP.
This measure is currently set to remain in place until the 31 March 2021. You can read more about it here.
Crisis support organisations – what constitutes a crisis?
Crisis support refers to organisations that offer immediate, short-term help for people undergoing mental health ‘crises’ – this includes people who are suicidal, at risk of hurting themselves or others, or otherwise in need of immediate, serious mental-health related help.
Below is a list of crisis support organisations available to Australians:
|Free telephone counselling service offering crisis |
and emotional support
|Free, confidential phone & online counselling for young people aged 5-25||1800 551 800||24/7|
|Immediate telephone counselling and support in a crisis||1300 659 467||24/7|
|A sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service||1800 737 732||24/7|
|Counselling and resources for men in crisis||1300 789 978||24/7|
|Family support |
and abuse prevention
|1800 688 009||24/7|
Long-term support – therapists and counsellors
If you are not suffering from an immediate mental health crisis, you may still be looking for support. You don’t have to be in crisis to seek coaching and counselling, and you needn’t wait until it feels like a crisis. Long-term mental health support involves ongoing work with a psychologist or counsellor, sometimes (but not always) in conjunction with your GP.
Therapists and counsellors are experienced professionals who work with you on a regular basis to talk through your issues, offer emotional support and practical solutions to improve your mental wellbeing. They provide a safe and private space for you to talk.
What if I can’t travel?
In the current climate, it may not be sensible to leave your home, especially if you live with underlying health issues. Most therapists will therefore offer telehealth in case you are not able to travel, and Medicare now subsidises some online as well as in-person sessions (read our complete guide to online counselling here).
As mentioned above, Medicare offers subsidised counselling in 10-session increments (which can be renewed through consultation with your GP). To access subsidised services, ask our Intake team. They’ll help you choose a relevant therapist and book in a session, and provide you with the details in an email to take to your GP, who can then write the necessary referral. Many GPs will now do telehealth appointments too.
If you don’t want to go through the Medicare route, you also don’t have to, and can access the help completely privately instead. Let our intake team know if you have any concerns and they can provide you with information pertaining to your situation.
How to choose the right help/support
Confronted with so many options, it can be hard to know where to start and how to get the help you need.
What type of help do I need?
Firstly, think about the temporality of your issue – is it an immediate crisis that requires an immediate piece of advice or comfort? Or, is it a long-term problem that you feel you need to start addressing?
If you need immediate help, it is critical that you can contact crisis support organisations; they are there for people in moments of distress. If you need longer term help, find and contact a therapist you think would suit you and book an initial appointment. If you think they’re a good fit for you, you can then visit your GP to get a referral for a full mental health plan with that therapist.
You can also contact us directly on 1300 735 030 to talk with one of our intake consultants about finding the right therapist for your needs.
How do I choose the right therapist?
Firstly, think about the type of person you feel most comfortable sharing your emotions with. You might consider their experience, whether they’ve worked closely with clients who have similar concerns as you, and whether they’re accessible.
You may want someone older with more life experience, or you may want someone younger who matches your age and makes you feel understood. If you are a woman who would feel safer speaking to a woman, that’s your prerogative. The same goes for men.
Whatever your preference, it’s vitally important that you are empowered to choose your own therapist based on your own needs, so that you can open up to them completely and build a positive working relationship. For that reason, don’t be afraid to be up front about what it is you need, and don’t stick with a professional out of politeness if you feel you don’t mesh. Counsellors and therapists are experienced professionals, and understand the importance of making the right match.
Self-help – ways to support your mental health
In addition to professional help, there are ways you can look after yourself to mitigate against some of the negative impacts of this pandemic. First, you could take a look at this article on positive strategies for managing self-isolation or lockdown, as well as this article on positive thinking and its impact on wellbeing and immunity.
Fear and anxiety
It’s important to get to know how you’re feeling in the here and now. If you’re feeling anxiety or fear, evidence shows that attempting to ignore it often has the paradoxical effect of making it worse. If you’d like to learn more about fear and anxiety, how they impact the brain and body and how they can be managed, you can read this article.
Loneliness and isolation
If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, there are a number of steps you can take to support yourself through this time. These include:
- Maintaining contact with distant friends and family
- Managing your expectations about contact – empathising with the unique strategies others use to cope, and not taking it personally when they aren’t able to give you attention
- Avoiding triggers like social media
- Working on building resilience
You can read more about loneliness, its impacts and management here.
Family and relationship conflicts
Lockdown can put unprecedented stress on relationships, stripped as we are of privacy or alone-time. Family and relationship counselling can be a great way to address these issues and build healthier relationships, but you can also take a look at our article for some take-home tips on managing family and relationships conflict during lockdown.
However, if you are experiencing violence or abuse during lockdown, you do not have to remain home. Contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for advice on what to do if you are experiencing family violence.
Physical practices to support mental wellbeing
There is a mountain of evidence that physical activities and behaviours can help to consolidate mental wellbeing. Whether you’re into yoga, tai chi, running, skipping, incorporating movement or physical practice into your life can help manage the ill-effects you’re experiencing mentally.
Deep breathing is a particularly helpful way to manage anxiety and stress. If you’d like to learn more about deep-breathing, the evidence to support its efficacy and tips and tricks for doing it right, you can read the article benefits of deep breathing here.
On top of our own anxieties and struggles during this time, many people are worried about the toll the crisis is having on their children. Typical developmental experiences like kinder, school, birthdays and so on are being missed, and children – especially very young children – may not fully understand why life has changed so much.
If you are worried about your child’s mental health, you can contact crisis organisations and you can also seek specialised long-term counselling for children. As for what you can do at home, read our blog post on how to support your children through this pandemic.
Amalyah Hart is a freelance journalist and content writer, specialising in science communication. She has a degree in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Oxford and is enrolled in a Master of Journalism at the University of Melbourne. She writes on psychology, health and health policy, and the environment. She also works in public policy consulting, specialising in the healthcare sector.