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Distress during the COVID-19 pandemic


Almost half of Australians will experience mental illness in their lives*. However, the distress created by our current social and economic landscape due to COVID-19, means that some people are now struggling with their mental health and wellbeing for the first time, even among Australians who don’t usually experience mental illness.

It’s been a difficult year all around the world and in Australia in particular, we went from widespread drought and bushfires into a pandemic. Although our understanding of this emotional toll is still evolving, mental illness is one of the most significant challenges we face today.

Risk factors resulting from the pandemic that affect people’s mental health include being out of work, concerns about finances, being lonely and isolated from social networks, and an increase in violence at home.

These circumstances create distress that make a person more vulnerable to suicide. Wesley Mission and Suicide Prevention Australia have released a joint white paper to highlight the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of Australians and have put forward recommendations to the Government about our national response to this emerging mental health crisis, click here to find out more. That’s why it’s more urgent than ever, that we support everyone who needs it through this difficult time.

After months of increased isolation or having depleted their available resources, more people will find themselves in crisis. Help ease the anguish of those that are experiencing, vulnerability, isolation and loneliness in our community like Greg and Gabi and Michelle. You can read their stories here.

We’re calling on the generosity of people like you, so that we can continue to offer help that spans mental health services, social support, emergency relief, employment support, youth programs and aged care. This means every barrier to a person’s wellbeing can be addressed. Our breadth of support uniquely places us to help people begin getting on top of their various issues longer-term. One of our critical services, Lifeline Sydney & Sutherland is now seeing an all-time high in calls received and in 74 per cent of calls this year, suicide was discussed.

Belief in the urgency of mental health support and suicide prevention also drives Edward, the Centre Manager at Wesley Mission’s Lifeline Sydney & Sutherland.

“In some cases, our callers are thinking of or making efforts to take their life. If we can’t answer and we don’t get the opportunity to hear their pain and get them to a place that they’re safe, the worst-case scenario is that a life is lost” says Edward.

The support someone receives in the middle of a mental health crisis can do more than change their life, it has the potential to save it.

Please help us address and support the growing mental health needs of Australians and to protect their lives. Your generosity can give hope and practical help including counselling, 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention for people in their time of crisis.

*Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.

Voices from inside the mental health crisis

  • Click to read Michelle’s story

    “Wesley Mission basically saved my life,” Michelle has said

    After 23 years serving as a police officer, Michelle was suddenly overcome by chronic stress. In 2010, she was hospitalised with severe depression. It ended her career and forced her to sell her home.

    “I don’t judge people that take their own life because I know that extremity,” says Michelle.

    Michelle’s path back to stability has been long and hard. But by February this year, her circumstances changed for the better. She’d worked her way up from a cleaning job at the airport into a customer service role.

    “Then COVID-19 came along and that rug was swept from under my feet.”

    With the airline industry now grounded indefinitely, Michelle has lost her job. Unsure how she’ll survive financially, depression re-entered her life. Making things harder, Michelle’s eldest son was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. Helping with his medical expenses has put her into arrears with her rent.

    She has no family to turn to. Her father has passed away and her mother is in a nursing home. But thanks to generosity like yours, during this difficult time, Wesley Mission has been like family to Michelle. Through one of our financial counsellors, Fiona, Michelle has received budgeting skills training, a voucher for her electricity bill, help with car repairs and 'lovely' food parcels. Fiona also assisted Michelle with accessing the medical support she needed to get back on her feet.

    When Michelle feels well enough, she hopes to give back by volunteering for Wesley Mission. To get there, she’ll keep needing our help and yours into the difficult months ahead.

  • Click to read Greg and Gabi’s story

    Greg and Gabi have also been going through their toughest times – along with their whole community. 

    Heading into the final months of 2019, they thought they’d already hit rock bottom. Two years of drought had eroded their dreams for their farm west of Taree. As the dams dried up and the grass shrivelled, they had to hand-feed their stock to stop them starving. This exhausting routine consumed their time, isolating them from family and friends.

    Then the parched landscape ignited in summer’s terrifying bushfires, which Greg helped fight as a volunteer for the Rural Fire Service. He and Gabi also spent four traumatic days beating back fires surrounding their own property during a blaze that destroyed nine homes in their village. When welcome downpours eventually came in January, the hard burnt ground set them up for destructive floods.

    “We just moved from one disaster into another. We were going, ‘what could happen next?’, and what happened was COVID-19. Everyone’s social structure, as well as what they were thinking about these events, just went to ground.”

    “People are frozen … me included. If you see a good mate, you can’t even shake their hand. There’s individuals who are really struggling with their mental health.”

    “This has all the potential in the world to become another kindof pandemic.”

    Greg’s greatest concerns for his community come from knowing where unresolved emotional pain can lead. In 2018 he and Gabi lost a close friend – a local mum – to suicide. The shock motivated Greg to join Wesley LifeForce Manning Suicide Prevention Network as its Assistant Chair. Wesley LifeForce is our national program providing suicide prevention services that educate and empower local communities, supporting those most at risk. Greg has been making plans through the Network to support his region towards recovery. He believes awareness is the key.

    “If you’ve got a mental health issue, it’s not like a broken arm – people can’t see it or understand it,” he says. “One thing I’m hoping we can do is highlight that mental health is not this weird thing that makes people strange, it’s an illness that makes them unwell.”

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