Life Wellbeing ‘Powerful strategy’ to combat poor mental health in the age of the coronavirus
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‘Powerful strategy’ to combat poor mental health in the age of the coronavirus

One conversation could be the difference between someone seeking psychological help or not. Photo: Getty
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A former manager of Lifeline has revealed a simple but “powerful” strategy that volunteers employed when taking calls from psychologically distressed and suicidal Australians.

Getting a loved one who may be suffering from mental illness to open up is almost never easy, and it holds especially true during the coronavirus pandemic.

Encouraging them to take the first step in seeking professional help can be a big challenge.

Psychologist Lyn Bender lent her expertise on how to help struggling Australians during these trying times.

“It really matters to you how they feel; convey that in some way,” she told The New Daily.

“We thought the fact that we were ready to listen, that we cared, that we thought they were worth it, they were worthwhile human beings – even though it wasn’t personal, that seemed to work very well.”

The empathy and the preparedness to listen were “powerful” in creating a safe space where callers felt at ease, Ms Bender said.

She said it was important to check with people who struggled with feelings of despair before the crisis, and ask if the pandemic has heightened feelings of hopelessness.

Empathy must be at centre of any meaningful conversation about someone’s mental health, says Ms Bender. Photo: Lyn Bender

Check “how much that’s invading them, how much that’s what they’re feeling” because “all of us now feel a sense of trepidation about the future”.

“In the end, when you have conversations with people, what you’re looking for is how they’re managing everything … and what’s keeping them going (if anything),” Ms Bender said.

Before you end the chat, she suggested finding things they can do in the short term.

Ask them: “What are you going to do for the rest of the day?”

If they, for example, respond by saying ‘When I go home, I’m going to sit in the lounge’, ask ‘What are you going to have for dinner or what would you like to have or is there anything you want to watch on television?'”

“See if you can bring them into the present with activities they might do and offer them a follow-up call. Then they feel there’s something to latch on to,” Ms Bender said.

Getting professional help

If you think someone would be best suited speaking to a professional, it’s sometimes useful not to say the word psychologist when trying to convince them.

You might say: ‘If you call your GP, you can have a chat with your GP, and then you could maybe have a chat with someone who can listen and talk’. ‘You may not think anyone can help you, but it’s worth a try, don’t you think?'”

“Before you raise the prospect of professional help, normalise it and offer empathy: “I’m really worried about you… (and) it’s been really hard this lockdown. Lots of people are finding it really hard’,” Ms Bender said.

Participants needed

Researchers from the University of Wollongong are seeking to understand the true scale of the coronavirus’s impact on the mental health of people.

First, they need Australians aged 18 and older to complete an online survey.

Dr Emanuela Brusadelli from UOW’s School of Psychology said the project is investigating “how different personality profiles are able to tolerate the restrictions” and “the associations between personality aspects and people’s behaviour” in the face of COVID-19 containment measures.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14