23 March 2020

Q&A opens window on Canberra's coronavirus concerns and provides resources

| Michael Weaver
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Dr Elizabeth Moore and Shane Rattenbury during the Q&A

The ACT’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator, Dr Elizabeth Moore, and the ACT Minister for Mental Health, Shane Rattenbury, during the live Q&A session. Photo: Supplied.

How do we keep homeless people safe from COVID-19? Can coronavirus survive on cardboard? What are the best websites for mental health and anxiety? And how do you talk to children about a pandemic?

More than 500 people engaged online in a live Facebook Q&A session that ran for almost 40 minutes last week, addressing Canberrans’ mental health and wellbeing concerns around coronavirus.

And while Minister for Mental Health, Shane Rattenbury referred the cardboard question to ACT Health, most questions were a bit more straightforward for the minister and the coordinator for the ACT’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Office, Dr Elizabeth Moore. Mr Rattenbury said more live sessions may be held in the future.

“For most of the generations in Australia, apart from our most senior grandparents, no one in Australia has experienced much like this anywhere in the world. You have to hark back to some of the war eras to have a genuine experience like this,” Mr Rattenbury said.

To reduce general anxiety and stress, Dr Moore recommended finding decent information but also limiting the amount of time spent each day keeping updated with information – especially on social media.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there, so we need to have a single source of truth,” Dr Moore said. “There is also a lot of uncertainty around the COVID-19 virus, but we’re a fairly resilient race and we should be able to use that resiliency to find creative ways to make a difference.”

Her top tips included keeping physically safe, maintaining good habits and not being too caught up in messages coming from social media.

“We don’t always eat or sleep properly at times, so find a routine that makes sure your immune system is the best it can be at the moment. To sleep well, you’ve got to be physically exercising. Set a fitness goal to make yourself stronger through adversity,” Dr Moore said.

One of the key questions was how to talk with children about the virus.

“Explain what we know, what we can do about it and that we will get through it together,” Dr Moore said. “Keep your kids reassured and keep a routine. It might not be the same routine you’ve always had, but find a new routine.”

Other questions included how to deal with the stress of potential job losses, how do we help keep homeless people safe and is it safe to go on buses or light rail?

Questions are also being fielded by the call centre at Lifeline in Canberra, which has answered 712 calls in the past seven days.

The ACT Government this week provided Lifeline ACT with an additional $100,000 to bolster its support services following a recent spike in calls. The funding will see Lifeline expand its call centre capacity to take up to 1000 extra calls per month for a period of six months.

Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson told Region Media they are seeing a heightened level of anxiety and fear among people in Canberra, not just relating to coronavirus.

“It is important to state that this is a healthy response to this enormous crisis. Whilst 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.

“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.”

Online resources are also available for mental health and wellbeing support:

You can watch the video from the Q&A session in full below or via Shane Rattenbury’s page on Facebook.

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