In this episode of the podcast Alex speaks with clinical psychologist Dr Inge Martin about how we can look after our mental health during the Corona Virus pandemic.

Dr Inge Martin

Inge specialises in women’s mental health. In addition to her private practice in North Sydney, WellPsych, she also consults to the Gidget Foundation. And together with her long term friend and colleague Fiona McGuigan, she has an Instagram platform ‘Join Us On The Couch’ which is dedicated to helping women navigate the complexities of life.

Will the Corona Pandemic lead to a Mental Health Crisis?

There is no doubt people are struggling and needing help more than ever. Services such as Lifeline and the Gidget Foundation have recorded a dramatic increase in calls. The combination of a sense of loss (freedom, choice & independence), a hyper vigilance to health threats plus the added responsibilities of homeschooling and working from home are making many of us feeling overwhelmed and uncertain which is undoubtedly creating emotional distress.

But sharing stories of our emotional struggles is becoming far more accepted in this current climate which is helping many of us cope. Many people are also taking comfort in the collective nature of our shared experience – that everybody is feeling the same way.

Both Inge and Alex are hopeful that this climate of sharing feelings and emotional health will remain post-pandemic!

What’s Normal?

Inge believes that it is important to acknowledge that we are going through something very difficult and stressful at the moment and that it is a normal human response to feel anxious and upset. If we weren’t emotionally affected or were feeling numb and totally calm, we wouldn’t be human! So, the focus needs to be on taking steps to take care of our mental health and well being rather than being quick to assume we have a mental health disorder.

How Are Women Affected by the Pandemic?

Women are certainly sharing a greater amount of the burden at the moment. Not only do they tend to take care of things at home, regulate the emotional health of the family, manage the homeschooling and homework they also often manage their own paid work. As a result, many women are struggling and feeling very overwhelmed.

Pregnant women or those who have just had a baby are at great risk at the moment. Not having visitors in hospital, visits by the community nurse or Mothers Groups can be very isolating. If you know anyone affected, check out My Mothers Group – an online forum that is organising Zoom groups for new mums online.

There is also enormous concern that many women who live in abusive relationships are in great danger at the moment. Some women are isolating at home with partners who are emotionally and physically abusive and are unable to tap into their normal support networks. Calls to domestic violence lines have dropped and there are spare beds in many domestic violence hostels around the country – women don’t have a safe space to call and get help.

What Steps Can I Take To Look After My Mental Health?

Create a Daily Routine – formulating a plan for our week is essential. Research shows that people who are suffering from depression benefit from scheduling activities, it lifts their mood. Often the less we do, the less we feel like doing. In your routine include activities for pleasure and also for achievement. This gives us a sense of control and predictability which will reduce anxiety! Also include space for self-care and personal space – whether it’s taking a bath or reading a book.

Set Goals – identify what your values are and what motivates you as a person and then find goals that align with that so then we feel we’re living a life we feel good about regardless of what’s going on in the outside world. Goal orientated activities provide a sense of achievement, they distract us and they are also a form of mindfulness which prevents us from ruminating on the things we can’t control. So keep baking, cleaning, ‘DIYing’ it will settle our stress response, engage the frontal lobe of the brain and make us feel good!

Exercise – a 20 minute daily walk will provide the same benefit as an anti-depressant for mild to moderate depression.

What To Do If You Have Concerns About Somebody Else?

Even though you may have concerns about someone, you can’t force behaviour change or treatment on them. Instead, focus on supporting them: call them, check in, visit them and have a cuppa with them if you can. When people are feeling low, they don’t usually want someone telling them what to do so focus on keeping the conversations going, remind them that there are treatment options available and that things are going to improve.

Where To Get Help?

At the moment, it is completely normal to experience some feelings of anxiety and sadness however if you have tried the above strategies and you have had symptoms for over 2 weeks, then make an appointment to see your GP. They will make a mental health plan for you which includes 10 sessions with a mental health expert and this can be done via telehealth. You can also see your GP via telehealth as well if you are concerned about leaving home.

You call also call a helpline such as LifeLine who can provide support 24 hours a day.

Lifeline in 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

National Domestic Violence Service 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

You can listen to the podcast via your favourite podcast app, or via this link below:

Happy listening!

Alex xx