RUOK? Mental health in the year of COVID-19

RUOK? Day is a cause close to my heart (this post I wrote a few years ago is still one of the most viewed on my blog), and this year it’s going to be more important than ever. I never struggle to ask if people are doing ok, but I still struggle to answer honestly when I’m asked. If I knew my friends were struggling with mental illness, having thoughts about ending their own lives, having a hard time coping day to day with even the most mundane tasks like doing their grocery shopping or hanging up the laundry, I’d do whatever I could to help. But for some reason, I don’t feel deserving of the same help and support in return. That’s how depression and anxiety get you; they make you feel you are not worthy.

Compounding my silence even more now is the fact that I now have a son; if I spoke out about just how badly I’m struggling, people might think I’m a bad mother. Then I catastrophise: what if people don’t trust me with him? What if they think I don’t love him? What if someone tries to take him away from me? I should just keep quiet, because no good can come from me being honest about the deep dark hole I find myself in from time to time. Postnatal depression and anxiety is horrific. So is regular depression and anxiety. And eating disorders. And personality and mood disorders. All mental illness is a terrible thing. It robs you of your sense of self, your passions and hobbies, your relationships, your will to get up and make the most of the day; sometimes it even robs you of your life.

So today, let’s not just do the token RUOK? sms to everyone, and let’s not send the token “yeah, doing great!” in response. If you are having a hard time, that’s ok. Let’s normalise the fact that mental illness is a real and dangerous thing. Let’s not sweep it under the rug. Let’s stop telling people to just try and stay positive, or that we’re all in the same COVID-19 boat, just because these dark feelings are uncomfortable and difficult to talk about. Imagine if that was the last thing you said to someone you loved before they took their own life. Let’s try to just be empathetic and kind today. If you don’t know what to say, a simple “I’m really sorry you’re going through this, I love you and I’m here for you” can go a very long way. And if you’re having a hard time right now and struggling with the isolation and loneliness inherent in both mental illness and COVID-19, here are some things that might help both you and the people around you…

 

Send some love out into the world to the ones you know who maybe aren’t doing OK:

1. Send postcards to your friends.
Postcards aren’t just for when you’re on holidays, and think about how awesome it feels to check the mail and find something other than bills in there! This isn’t a sponsored post, but I really love Red Bubble for fun postcards – there is literally something for everyone on there, and writing a postcard is a lot more manageable that writing a full letter when you’re struggling to know what to say.

2. Write a letter to a stranger.
If you find yourself with a bit more time and mental energy, think about joining in on the Connected AU Letterbox Project. It’s easy for most of us to just send a text or have a family Zoom session, but there are a lot of Australians who either don’t have the access or ability to use technology to keep connected. This project is a way for those of us with an extra 10 minutes to remind those Aussies that they’re not alone. Writing a letter too hard? Maybe send a copy of your favourite recipe, a drawing, or some photos you’ve taken.

3. Send a regular weekly or fortnightly or even monthly “check in” text to friends you know might be having a hard time.
You know the friends I’m talking about. The one with kids at home who’s struggling to keep them entertained. The one working in a higher risk environment. The one who owns a small business and doesn’t know if it will survive this. The one with family overseas or with elderly parents they can’t see. And it doesn’t need to be an essay. You can literally just sent a text that says “hey, just checking in to see how you’re doing :)” Sometimes all we need is to know someone is thinking of us.

4. Cook up a bit of extra food when you make dinner, or an extra big batch of cookies…
… and drop it off to a neighbour. If you’ve read any of my blog before, you’ll have noticed that I love exploring the ways that food connects us, and right now, that connection might save someone. Even a little plate of choc chip cookies and a kind note on your neighbour’s front doopstep might make the world of difference.

5. If you have loved ones further away, send food anyway!
We live in the time of UberEats and MenuLog – there are also a HEAP of amazing small hospitality businesses who are cooking up delicious meals and delivering them. If you suspect a friend is really struggling to keep up, having one less meal to cook can be a huge help, so if you’re in the financial position to help by sending them dinner one night, that can be something quick and easy you can do for them!

Do something for yourself when you’re the one feeling not so OK:

1. Turn off the news and turn on some mindless TV for a mental break.
First up, take a breather. I know how tempting it is to stay tuned for every update. I also know how bad it is to read nothing but pandemic updates all day, every day. Sometimes even reading a good book can be too mentally taxing right now, sometimes you just need to watch something on TV that requires no thinking – now’s the time to get addicted to Top Chef, Making It, The Amazing Race and Bluey. And that’s ok – you don’t have to be productive all the time!

2. Use technology work for you instead of against you.
If you’re going to have a mindless scroll, mindlessly scroll through stuff that isn’t going to make you feel worse! Here are a few Instagram favourites to make you smile and support your mental wellbeing:
@selfcareisforeveryone
@charliemackesy
@wawawiwacomics
@theblurtfoundation
@thehappynewspaper

3. Create something.
There’s a good reason art therapy is used in the treatment of many mental illnesses. You don’t need to be good at creative pursuits to benefit from them – write a few lines a day in a journal. Draw your breakfast every morning. Listen to your favourite music while you’re doing the laundry. If you’re a bit more ambitious, try a new creative hobby – lino printing, water colour painting, hand sewing, knitting, learning a language or a musical instrument… it can be a very cathartic experience, not to mention a really nice distraction from the sadness to create something beautiful.

4. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.
A friend posted something on Instagram the other day that got me really good – it was along the lines of comparison being not only the thief of joy, but the thief of grief, too. If you’re having a hard time, that’s ok. You don’t have to buck up and get over it; you’re allowed to feel sad and hurt. You also don’t have to buy into all of your painful thoughts and feelings – this is where mindfulness comes in. There is obviously a LOT of information out there on mindfulness which I’m sure you can easily Google, but one of the easiest ways you can start is to just notice your thoughts and feelings, and to let them pass without judging them.

For example, if you’re feeling anxious, instead of getting really worked up about it and catastrophising, you might just say to yourself “hmm.. I’m noticing that I’m feeling a bit anxious right now. That’s making my stomach feel really tight and uncomfortable. I’m going to take a few slow breaths and count to 5 on each inhale and 5 on each exhale, and focus just on that counting instead of the anxiety, just for 30 seconds.” After you’re done with that breathing and counting, you might decide you don’t want to go back to the anxious feeling, or you might decide you want to poke around and work out why you’re feeling that way. Either way, it’s good to take a quick step back before these feelings get really overwhelming.

5. Reach out for help.
You don’t have to seek out help in person. It doesn’t need to be with family or friends if you’re not comfortable confiding in them yet. It doesn’t need to be a super formal thing. We live in the technology age, and that makes help more accessible than ever, so use that to your advantage.

Beyond Blue
Phone support service: 1800 512 348
Web chat support service: https://cmwssonline.beyondblue.org.au/#/chat/start
Online community forum: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/online-forums/staying-well/coping-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak

Lifeline 
Phone support service: 13 11 14
Web chat support service from 7pm – midnight: https://www.lifeline.org.au/crisis-chat/
SMS support service from 6pm – midnight: 0477 13 11 14

SANE
Phone support service: 1800 18 7263
Web chat support service from Monday to Friday 10am – 10pm: https://www.sane.org/services/help-centre#
Online community forum: https://saneforums.org/?_ga=2.9719285.116053902.1597979668-381352914.1597979668

More options for support can be found at https://mhaustralia.org/need-help

2 thoughts on “RUOK? Mental health in the year of COVID-19

  1. Just want to say THANK YOU for this extremely helpful, extremely timely post. I also really appreciate and admire your honesty, vulnerability and courage to share all you did. Thanks again

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and leave such a kind comment. I hope you’re doing ok right now, and I hope that some of that post can help you 🙂 stay safe!

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