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Mental wellbeing during a pandemic – a chat with Support After Suicide

The social distancing, isolation and separation from regular routines and social connections that are now part of our daily lives as a result of COVID-19 have impacted us all in different ways. Dr Louise Flynn, Manager of Jesuit Social Services’ Support After Suicide program, discusses mental wellbeing during the pandemic and how the work of Support After Suicide has adapted during this time.

The impact of COVID-19 has led to all members of the community experiencing a range of emotions. Is grief one of them?

Overall, people are being impacted in vastly different ways. There may well be people who experience grief, perhaps as a result of missing the important people in their lives, and also losing the connections and routines of daily life. But on the one hand, you have people who’ve lost their jobs and are having trouble paying the rent, you’ve got families working from home and also trying to home school and then there are people who are much less impacted and who haven’t had to make so many adjustments. So some will be experiencing significant stress and distress and others less so.

It’s a really wide range of different impacts. For some people there will be a sense of grief at missing their social activities and their contact with people who they love. People who’ve lost jobs may be experiencing grief but also financial stress and maybe also housing stress.

It’s not possible to have one idea about the impact of COVID-19. Some people have a high level of anxiety and others may not. We know that we are all in this together, all affected to some degree, but there’s a wide range of ways people are affected, and it’s good for us all to be aware of that; the way I’m impacted is not the way it is for everyone else. As a community, it’s good to us to consider how it might be for others.

What are some of the key ways in which people can maintain and promote their mental wellbeing during this time?

It’s helpful to keep remembering that there’s a good reason for this; that the isolation has an important purpose, that it’s part of taking care of ourselves and one another. It’s helpful to have that larger sense that there is a purpose for this.

Where possible, it’s positive to focus on finding things to enjoy in our day-to-day life whether it’s looking at funny videos or playing games with friends or family on Zoom. It can help to actively seek out opportunities for enjoyment and connection.

It’s also helpful to look for and create opportunities for creativity – many people are taking up new activities in this time. It’s still possible for us to get out of the house and go for a walk, do some exercise, we’re very much able if we have access to technology to remain connected. Using that technology and keeping up connections is a good way to make the day-to-day grind not such a grind.

It’s good to keep in mind that support services are available as well. So if anyone is really finding it intensely difficult there are people that are available like Lifeline (13 11 14).

Is it important people use technology as much as they can to keep in contact with loved ones?

It definitely is. Anything that enables us to have connections and conversations, to share experiences, to be engaged with loved ones and enjoy ourselves is important at this time.

Do you recommend people set routines for themselves at home, regardless of whether they are working from home or not?

I think having a routine is very helpful but it’s also a good idea to adapt to the new situation and not pressure ourselves to keep going as we were before. It’s OK to have a different routine to what you may be used to. What works will be different for everyone. Some people find it easy to get up and get dressed as if they’re going to work but for other people that won’t work, and this situation enables them to do things differently.

Routines are helpful but we’ve all struggled adapting to this situation and possibly felt expectations about how we should act or how we should work. There can be pressure – people can be experimental about what works for them and understand that what worked for them before may not work for them in this situation.

Support After Suicide is continuing to deliver its one-on-one counselling services and group sessions remotely. How are participants finding the experience?

For some people, they’ve found it intensifying the difficulty they’re already facing because they can’t continue face-to-face connection or the usual activities that have helped them deal with the grief and trauma. For others, it’s also been quite triggering in that the feelings of isolation have meant they have not been able to carry out some of the rituals that have been important, for example, on the anniversary date.

For others, possibly, they’ve found the distancing and isolation quite helpful because it means peace and quiet and time to focus on themselves.

We’re pleased that we’ve been able to keep connection with people via phone and Zoom for counselling and groups. It’s not the same as face-to-face but it has been working better than we’d hoped.

For more information about Support After Suicide, visit www.supportaftersuicide.org.au