Content warning: suicide
Like everyone else in Victoria, I had plans this month with friends and family. And like everyone else, I’m experiencing the disorienting sensation of being back in September 2020. With one week turning to two, and no certainty if that will tick over to three, those old feelings of frustration and anxiety are back. After making it so far in one “new normal,” it’s a blow for all of us to see how fragile our freedom still is.
Right now, it’s easy to feel frozen. We don’t know if we should make plans or wait. It’s not clear if we need to cancel reservations we made months ago. It’s easy to be torn between optimism that we’ll be out this Saturday, and the fear that second lockdown’s repeating.
We can’t control the decisions that will determine any of this. But we can, Michael Inglis, a psychologist and co-founder of The Mind Room, says, try to avoid thinking in “modes”, whether that’s “lockdown mode”, “work mode” or “post-COVID mode.”
Rather than holding our breath, now is the time for mindfulness. Existing in the present, taking each day as it comes, and not rushing to make decisions or imagine a future that’s driven by fear. 2021 is not 2020, and it’s important to breathe. Instead of rushing ahead, try grounding yourself in the here and now: tackling the tasks you can and letting the ones you can’t just exist. No one knows what this lockdown’s timeline will be yet, so there’s no reason to give yourself one.
Focus, instead, on the tasks that are manageable. Give yourself goals within your control: when everything is so uncertain, it’s grounding to focus on what we can change.
None of this is new: we’ve all read or practised it before: stay flexible, eat well. Use the time we can to get outside, stay active, catch up with friends over Zoom, stick to routines.
And, most important, let others know when we’re struggling. Despite the odds, “data from the state coroner shows there was no increase in suicides in Victoria in 2020, despite a spike of more than 40 per cent in calls for help to mental health hotlines.”
Everyone’s mental health is different. While some people really struggled last year, or are struggling now, for others it’s business as usual. But just because our neighbours or friends seem like they’re unaffected doesn’t mean any of us need to be silent about our experiences.
In 2020, “Despite experiencing mental health issues,” 55% of respondents to Edith Cowan University’s survey “reported not seeking mental health treatment, including 39% of those who reported that their mental health status was poor.”
In my own life, mental health has taken its toll. While it isn’t known why, and we will always have questions, my Uncle Shane recently made the decision to take his own life and rest peacefully. While my family processes this loss, we hope that he has found the peace that he has been seeking for so long.
Having recently retired, he struggled to find his purpose, new routine and happiness. Like everyone affected by COVID, he experienced that same sense of feeling adrift.
In 2020, 698 Victorians died from suicide. Of those deaths, 520 were men. Each of those 698 deaths is a unique person, with their own reasons and history. Mental health struggles are different for everyone, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to help.
But it’s clear that, in a year of a pandemic, when nothing was normal, mental health hotlines saved lives. That 40 per cent increase in calls, with no increase in deaths, means other people’s uncles, friends and loved ones stayed safe.
If you are feeling sad, depressed or angry: talk to someone. A loved one. A professional. An anonymous volunteer on a hotline call. Creating new routines or practising mediation is great, but sometimes that’s not enough. When things are so uncertain, one of the best things we can do is know who we can reach out to, whether that’s asking a friend or talking to a doctor for a mental health referral.
Right now, things may be uncertain, but one thing that will never change are the people who want to listen and to help. There’s always someone willing to lend an ear if you reach out.