Mental health and well-being support for Canberrans has received a $100,000 boost following an increase of 25 per cent in calls to Lifeline related to concerns over COVID-19, and the impact of bushfire and smoke haze in the ACT.
The ACT Government will provide the funding as part of its $137 million coronavirus stimulus package announced last week.
Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson said the money will allow the organisation to expand its call centre capacity to take up to 1000 extra calls per month for a period of six months.
“Lifeline is pleased the ACT Government has provided this funding to provide emotional support to the Canberra community throughout these uncertain times,” Ms Leeson said.
“It is crucial for every one of us to look after our emotional wellbeing, and keep checking on yourself and loved ones.”
Ms Leeson said Lifeline has scaled up its response to meet the high levels of stress in the community. She said validating people’s stress is a great way of helping them cope with the emotional impact of events affecting them.
“We are seeing a heightened level of anxiety and fear amongst community members. It is important to state that this is a healthy response to the uncertainty around this crisis.
“While it is a healthy response though, we need to take steps to care for ourselves and diminish the impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Ms Leeson said people can take care of themselves and others by avoiding excessive exposure to media coverage, engaging with meaningful connections via calls and messaging, adding extra time daily for stress relief, and practicing self-care and focus on your mental health.
“For those members of the community with children, please reassure them that they are safe, let them talk about their worries, share your own coping skills, and try to limit their exposure to news,” Ms Leeson said.
“Many in our community are self-isolating to ensure they stay safe and those around them remain safe. This also brings up many challenges, so please remember to keep in contact with loved ones via social media, calls and messaging.
“Create a daily self-care routine, and try to keep yourself busy with books, games or movies.”
The Minister for Mental Health, Shane Rattenbury, said the ACT Government is aware that the community needs additional supports as we enter a phase of uncertainty and significant upheaval through efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
“First the bushfires, now coronavirus. It’s been a tough start to the year for Canberrans and we know there are challenging times ahead,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“The level of anxiety occurring across the ACT is taking its toll on our community and Lifeline is one of the first ports of call for those who in need of support.”
Mr Rattenbury said despite the social distancing measures in place, being connected with the community was more important than ever.
Last week, he and the ACT’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Office, Dr Elizabeth Moore, hosted a live Facebook Q&A session that ran for almost 40 minutes addressing Canberrans’ mental health and wellbeing concerns around coronavirus.
Lifeline has also made the decision to cease donation collections via its collection van until further notice due to the current risks associated with COVID-19.
“While we are expanding funding to Lifeline, we would also encourage people to seek assistance from other options, including a wide range of online resources that can help manage anxiety during this time,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“Simple things can also help to maintain the resilience of Canberrans and their families. Keeping to routines as much as possible is important and paying attention to basic self-care such as eating healthy and trying to maintain good sleep patterns can be helpful.
“Community matters. Connectedness matters. We’re all in this together.”
Ms Leeson said Lifeline Canberra’s crisis supporters had answered more than 700 calls last week.
“As an organisation, we are taking calls from Canberrans, from Australians stranded in Paris to Australians on cruise ships. We are here for anyone feeling unsettled, scared or anxious.
“We want people to know that through COVID-19 and social isolation, Lifeline Canberra is here. Call us on 13 11 14 at any time.”