Lessons from lockdown
Audi Magazine speaks with ReachOut CEO, Ashley de Silva, about COVID’s ongoing mental health impact.
On the eve of Mental Health month, ReachOut Australia CEO, Ashley de Silva, discusses the ever-changing challenges of COVID on young people and parents and how they can best deal with the evolving situation.
Courtesy ReahOut and iStock
27 September, 2021
For ReachOut, Australia’s leading online mental health organisation, the ongoing pandemic has added to the ever present pressures of ‘normal’ life
With so much about coronavirus outside our control, it’s been another year of uncertainty for many Australians. And as we continue the emotional, physical, and mental roller coaster of COVID-19, for young people around the country, loss of structure is having an enormous impact on the mental health landscape. With one in four young Australians currently experiencing a mental health difficulty and 70 percent of those not getting the help they need, we’re seeing the impacts of this pandemic in more ways than one.
For ReachOut, Australia’s leading online mental health organisation, the ongoing pandemic has added to the ever present pressures of ‘normal’ life. A long time partner of the Audi Foundation, ReachOut has long provided successful online tools and support to help young people as well as parents seeking ways to cope, and that experience has been invaluable in adapting to and meeting new challenges born of the COVID situation.
“Early in the experience we faced a collective fear around catching COVID. There was a strong focus on hand hygiene but masks weren’t mandatory at that time,” says Ashley de Silva, CEO of ReachOut Australia.
“Then we moved to feeling quite destabilised around how upside-down life felt, before entering a phase concerning the future, and living with uncertainty for extended periods of time. More recently, we’ve hit a fatigue phase around the idea that we’re still living like this,” de Silva explains.
“It’s hard for a lot of us, but when you think about this in the context of a young person’s life when there are key transitions playing out … things have become much more uncertain,” he says.
If there’s a silver lining to the challenges faced over the last 18 months, it’s that mental health is now broadly discussed and the forum is wide open.
“We’ve all been able to say at one point or another that we haven’t thrived consistently in this period, and because it’s been a shared experience and the dialogue has been quite open around the fact that it’s been hard, people are recognising how they can feel different day-to-day,” explains Ashley.
Ideally what this means in the future is that when young people face an unrelated challenge, they will have built their literacy around how to seek support and hopefully this will be a skill they can take with them into the future.”
Naturally, there are many people with pre-existing mental health conditions, and that’s been difficult throughout this latest lockdown.
“We’ve seen increased levels of distress in the online community and sadly there’s been an increase in emergency departments admissions across the country with young people during COVID. As much as we point to the silver lining, there are more challenging examples playing out every day.”
If there’s a silver lining to the challenges faced over the last 18 months, it’s that mental health is now broadly discussed and the forum is wide open
Communication has never been more important, and something as simple as a wellbeing check-in is a tangible way to start an important conversation
This is where ReachOut’s support of young people and parents – whether they’re dealing with pre-existing mental health issues or COVID related ones – use numerous methods to provide help.
With specially tailored programs for young people and parents alike, stories from people similarly affected and the chance for conversations all available at ReachOut support is at hand.
Communication has never been more important, and something as simple as a wellbeing check-in is a tangible way to start an important conversation with a teen.
“Between teachers and parents checking in, young people are exhausted by the question ‘how are you?’ particularly when it can change day-to-day, or week-to-week, “ says Ashley.
“What if we asked them, ‘What’s your number today?’ with 10 being ‘I’m great and loving life’, and zero being ‘I’m not at all well’. It creates a shorthand where young people don’t have to find the words to articulate, and it quickly creates a data point for parents to know where their child is at. Then you can ask more specific questions to generate a conversation that’s a little more practical.”
“Although Australia’s making great progress now around vaccination rates, we know life won’t just snap back as soon as things are open,” says de Silva.
With October officially Mental Health Month, ReachOut will host its second Make a Move initiative to help promote better mental health through lifestyle changes.
“It’s a fun community event which places a spotlight on the whole month of October and is designed to help participants kickstart a new, positive routine.”
“We wanted to put Mental Health month on the radar of Australians, to give people a way of experimenting and practicing tangible steps to improve their mental health,” explains Ashley.
“We know the benefits around physicality from a mental health perspective, so it could be anything from running to walking each day.”
“But we also want to encourage people that are interested in making a move around their state of mind. They may like to make a commitment to meditation or yoga and at the same time raise funds for ReachOut to continue to do the work that we’re doing around the longer tail of COVID.”
As a collective, our nation has already been through so much together. Now it’s time for the Australian community to unite in raising awareness and promoting better mental health for all.
With October officially Mental Health Month, ReachOut will host its second Make a Move initiative
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