Months of tribulation from bushfires, smoke and now a pandemic has caused an alarming rise in anxiety for pregnant women and new mothers, the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre (PWC) says.
The centre has seen its calls increase by a third since May last year and jump by 15 per cent since January this year, its CEO Dr Yvonne Luxford told Region Media.
Natural disasters – including Canberra’s devastating hail storm – and increased social isolation rippling through the community because of COVID-19 have turned a lot of people’s worlds upside-down, she said.
“A number of callers have truly elevated levels of anxiety and that is completely understandable with the current COVID-19 crisis, and COVID-19 is dominating the conversation of the calls.
“It is fear for yourself and your loved ones and wanting to keep your family safe.”
To help the PWC not only deal with the influx of calls, but also the increasing complexity of calls, the ACT Government announced it would be giving the centre a $55,000 grant through its second economic stimulus package.
Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury said the government was trying to make it easier for community services and not-for-profits to deliver mental health support to their clients and callers during the pandemic.
“We are stepping up our support for those who support us,” he said.
“This follows an additional $100,000 to Lifeline ACT to bolster its support services in recent days [after the service] experienced a 25 per cent increase in calls, and since receiving the funding provided, they have been able to answer 23 per cent more calls to their service.
“Lifeline reports that in the past three weeks, 100 percent of their calls have touched on COVID-19 in some way.”
And the same thing is happening at PWC.
“We are seeing that of the calls we are currently getting both from our current clients and new clients, calls are taking much longer,” Dr Luxford said.
The new funding for PWC will go towards helping the centre move its face-to-face counselling services and support groups online, and deal with more appointments over the phone and via email so PWC can continue serving their clients who are too vulnerable to meet face-to-face.
“Being a little NGO, our IT at the moment is absolutely rubbish, so this will help us to develop those programs quickly so that we can meet people’s needs straight away,” Dr Luxford said.
“What the money means is that we will be able to better meet the growing demands that we are seeing at the moment.
“We are trying to find mechanisms to still engage with our clients and give them some sense of reduction in isolation.”
While moving the bulk of their services online was unfathomable only months ago, the current environment demands it, despite face-to-face support groups being the cornerstone of the organisation.
“Teleservices are definitely a lot harder because nothing 100 per cent replaces that face-to-face contact. But it means you can have that sense of direct connection and they can build up connections with their peers, which is incredibly important as well,” Dr Luxford said.
She believes the service will be able to develop programs to replicate face-fo-face consultations very quickly but concedes it won’t be the same, although it’s the connection that matters.
Support networks for some women have already been shut off because of new restrictions implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19. Pregnant women are being told not to bring a support person to scans and tests and only one support person is allowed in the birthing suite.
Women and families with young children are also unable to call people like grandma in to help look after the kids when mum goes into hospital for tests or to give birth for fear of passing the virus on to people are already more vulnerable – and many do not know where to turn for this support.
“Just talking to a counsellor in that initial call is enough to validate how they are feeling and we won’t need to take them on as a client,” Dr Luxford said.
The PWC can then provide continuous counselling to people who call up either over the phone, or over email if the method is preferred, if they take the caller on as a patient.
But it all begins with that initial call – something this funding goes towards making sure is answered.
For more information, visit the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre or call 6288 1963.