Spotlight On: Mental Health

We’re shining a spotlight on mental health, as these are exceptional times and the COVID-19 pandemic is causing anxiety, worry and stress for people across the globe. The hospitality industry was hit particularly hard with government mandated venue closures, and many workers in this sector are likely to be struggling to cope.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Beyond Blue has received an unprecedented number of contacts, with up to one-in-three relating to COVID-19 concerns.

As a result, Beyond Blue launched a new, dedicated Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service available to support all Australians to manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health and wellbeing.

The free service is available around the clock, delivering clear, evidence-based information, advice and support specifically tailored to the mental health and wellbeing challenges raised by the pandemic.

Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman says the service would evolve to reflect the changing needs of the community.

“People are telling us they’re feeling overwhelmed, worried, lonely, concerned about their physical health and the health of friends and loved ones, and anxious about money, job security and the economy,” Ms Harnan says.

“Right now, people are looking for simple, practical information that’s available, reliable and relevant to them.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Different people will need different types of support for their mental health and wellbeing.”

Pastry chef Rod Shokuhi spoke with Baking Business about how his mental wellbeing has suffered in the wake of the pandemic, which was compounded by other stressors in his life.

For Rod, it has been a big 12 months in many ways. Firstly, his career took on a new exciting direction as he took up a position as a pastry chef and product developer, and then he and his wife Laura welcomed their first child in March. In between, however, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and after returning from three weeks of annual leave, Rod found that his job wasn’t what he’d left behind.

With the company having to put a lot of staff on hold, Rod was working long days and resenting the fact he wasn’t getting home to his wife and newborn son until late, causing him a lot of distress where he felt he wasn’t able to give his job and his family what they needed. In the end, leaving was a mutual decision.

“I got into a position where I was focusing on so much that I couldn’t focus on anything at all,” he says.

“I wasn’t really performing at work. They were expecting certain things from me that I couldn’t deliver, and I was expecting certain things from the business and that couldn’t deliver. Just things like doing a regular shift from seven to four, but the business wasn’t in a position to do that anymore because the whole game had changed.”

Like many in the hospitality industry who have found themselves out of work, Rod experienced a lot of anxiety and low moods.

“Last week I was absolutely struggling,” he says.

“It’s more to do with my values system because I’m loyal and because I’m someone who’s got a lot of dignity. I like to think that I’m a man of my word and if I say I’m going to do something, I do it. If I can’t do it then I’ve failed.

“I felt like I was just failing in a lot of areas in my life.

“I kept on seeing people succeeding around me, and I kept on seeing myself as failing. It’s incredibly hard.”

Rod knows that he’s not alone in feeling this way, explaining he has friends who have seen their income reduce or disappear.

“I really don’t want my family’s security compromised. And so many families out there have had their security completely compromised,” he says.

“It’s really good that the government has stepped in and said ‘here’s a package; you can depend on us’ in that sense. If there wasn’t that, I think the suicide rate alone would just skyrocket. A bigger spike than COVID ever could do.”

Despite his recent struggles, Rod has found some relief and clarity in being honest about how he is feeling and addressing the “what ifs” that were eating away at him.

“I’m a big believer in trying to be as self-aware as possible. I learned years ago that whenever there’s a massive challenge in your life, there’s also equal massive support; it’s just a matter of looking for it,” he says.

Most importantly, Rod says, when people speak out about their own struggles, they may give someone else the courage to address their own issues.

“Our worst enemy isn’t what actually happens; it’s us looking into the unknown future and thinking ‘it’s going to happen’. We project that false reality as though it’s the truth.

“But having a conversation and not feeling ashamed to say ‘I feel vulnerable’ is so paramount.”

“Waking up first thing in the morning and just training myself to not think about where I’m going in the next half an hour but to just be in the moment. Because in that moment, nothing is happening, and if I can be okay in that moment, I can be okay in the next moment.”

Beyond Blue Chair The Hon Julia Gillard AC says it is normal to feel worried and encouraged people to seek support.

“These are uncertain times and the challenges ahead will test us as a nation,” Ms Gillard says.

“By coming together, by following official advice and by showing compassion towards those around us, we will get through this.

“In the same way that we’re taking careful steps to manage our physical health, we can actively look after our mental health and Beyond Blue is developing resources to support people to do that.”

Mind Matters

spotlight on mental health

Social isolation, health worries, business downturn, and unemployment are just a few stressors that have been heightened in the past few months, leading to feelings of hopelessness and burnout. While we try to keep our communities and ourselves physically well, the dark side effect of reduced mental wellbeing is rearing its ugly head for many.

It may be tempting to overlook a downturn in mood, but remember, your mental health is at least as important as your physical health, and there are many positive, proactive steps we can all take to support our mental wellbeing, and that of those around us.

Look Out

Pay attention to the subtle signs that those around you aren’t okay. Are they communicating less than usual? How is their tone and language? Are they posting less on social media than normal?

If you’re concerned for a friend, colleague, or family member, trust your gut and check in with them.

Stay Connected

Social (physical) distancing is an important response to the pandemic—but we need to ensure that does not become social isolation or alienation.

Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman said staying connected with family and friends would be vital in maintaining good mental health as the coronavirus outbreak continues to impact our daily lives.

“We expect that there will be more demand for mental health support as the health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19 play out and we would encourage everyone to reach out early,” Ms Harman said.

“Remember, you’re not alone and support is available. The Beyond Blue Support Service is available around the clock, by phone or online, and our online forums are moderated by people who understand and care.”

Look After Your Body

Mental health and physical health are connected. It can be really difficult to find the motivation and energy, but ensuring you’re getting sufficient sleep, eating healthy foods, avoiding too much alcohol and squeezing in some exercise – even if it’s just a walk around the block – can make a surprising difference to how you feel.

Stick To Facts

Oftentimes, the “what if?” scenarios we run through over and over in our own heads in the middle of the night are far worse than anything that actually happens. Deal with the here and now, and try not to jump ahead into the unknown.

Also, ensure you’re getting your news and information from credible sources (such as government and health department websites), as misinformation can fuel anxiety.

Social Media

If you’re feeling particularly anxious, it may be worth limiting your social media use and news viewing if you find it upsetting.

Where to turn:

spotlight on mental health

As well as the below contacts, the Australian Government Department of Health’s Head To Health website has resources to help you find the right service for your needs. Your GP will also be able to point you in the right direction.

Phone: 1300 22 46 36

Phone: 13 11 14

SANE Australia
Phone: 1800 187 263

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