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Mental Health Telephone Triage service answering community concerns

Mental Health Telephone Triage Clinician Zoe Francis answering a call for assistance during Covid-19.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed how we live our lives in ways many of us have never experienced before.

Physical distancing, remote learning, working from home or self-isolation are just some of the lifestyle adjustments adding stress for many community members.

Peninsula Mental Health Service Clinical Director, Professor Richard Newton, says some people are particularly vulnerable to developing psychiatric illness because of their biology or exposure to challenging life experiences. 

“Increased stress interacts with this vulnerability – Covid-19 in this instance – and leads to some of us developing a mental illness for the first time or having a recurrence of a mental illness that previously we had managed effectively,” says Richard.

“We have known for more than a hundred years that community connectedness effects how many of us will die by suicide. 

“As the pandemic draws out, we’re likely to see social distancing continue, gradually diminishing our sense of community cohesion.  It is therefore a major concern that we will see more members of our community who are suicidal and feeling despair.”

Calls to the Mental Health Telephone Triage have increased during the pandemic.

Professor Newton says those working in the mental health field have identified a common thread among those who are struggling at the moment: an increase in physical and mental fatigue.

“People are feeling bone weary and desperate for a break,” says Richard.

“This plays out in many ways, such as: lowered mood, frustration, irritability, poor sleep, loss of motivation, loss of concentration, worry, loss of energy, loss of interest, anxiety symptoms, such as churning stomach, muscle tension, headaches, palpitations, anger outbursts, increased alcohol and drug use.”

“These are all signs of this increased stress.”

Professor Newton points out that simply recognising that this is happening within one ‘s self, is an important first step before seeking help.

“GPs for most of us are the first port of call if we need more formal help and have a wealth of knowledge and experience about resources can help in their local community including counselling options,” says Richard.

“Public mental health services are also available and at Peninsula Health we have experienced a very large increase in the number of calls we have received to our telephone triage service over the last few months from people seeking advice and referrals to mental health support.”

“Remember talking about how this is stressing you to those who you feel connected to can be very helpful. Self-help strategies are also vitally important.”

“Good nutrition, exercise, reduced substance use, social connectedness to people who care and who you care for, managing exposure to social media, mindfulness or other medication strategies, setting goals for this period of things that you want to do that are realistic, all can help.”

Professor Newton wants everyone to remember there are many ways we can care for one another during this time where many of our face-to-face interactions are discouraged.

“There is an enormous role for the community in looking out for each other,” says Richard.

“Even small acts of kindness to one’s neighbours or those you know may be vulnerable makes a difference to them.”

“We have seen examples of this throughout the peninsula.  A real challenge will be to sustain this for the long term.  If we as a community can maintain a high level of mutual support during this crisis it will save lives.”

Mental health support is available for you or someone you know, who’s feeling anxious about Covid-19 (coronavirus) or struggling to cope. 

Peninsula Health’s Mental Health Telephone Triage is available across every hour of every day of the week on 1300 792 977.

Clinicians make a brief assessment of a caller’s needs, offering supportive counselling and information to assist with addressing any mental health concerns.

In a crisis situation, please call triple-zero (000). Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Beyond Blue 1800 512 348), Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) or the Federal Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health.