Death and grief, unemployment, anxiety, exhaustion and a curfew – the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to Melbourne.
Tess Roberts felt she was starting to reach the end of the list of suggested “healthy coping mechanisms”.
After she lost her admin job at a small management consulting business, she watched people around her try baking bread, doing sudoku and colour by numbers.
She has already used up her 10 Medicare-funded psychology sessions and is glad to see the program being extended to offer another 10.
“We’ve probably journaled about it, we’ve done some meditating, whatever works for you,” she said.
She began to feel that maybe the best way to capture just how out-of-control her life was beginning to feel was to “literally just to walk out into the outside world and just yell because I think there’s something cathartic about that”.
So without much more thought, Ms Roberts set up the Facebook event Stand on Your Front Porch and Scream as a joke.
By early Friday, 74,000 people had flagged their interest in joining her to do just that at 7pm.
Iceland has also invited people to scream at 2020
Initially surprised by the rapid take-up of the event, Ms Roberts is seeing common themes emerge in the jokes, conversations and comments being shared on the page.
Among her suggested words people could scream to vent their frustration at the pandemic is the overused “unprecedented”.
“Scream this one with all the disgust you can manage because it’s the only word anyone ever uses to talk about this pandemic,” she posted.
“Roll every venomous syllable off your tongue and then never say this spew word again.”
Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised it took off – Iceland’s tourism team launched a whole campaign earlier in 2020 based around the idea of recording a scream and having it played on speakers somewhere in the Icelandic wilderness.
While the Let It Out! website suggested screaming could be a therapeutic tool, it also made clear it was no substitute for professional mental health support.
If you can’t change your circumstances, try your mindset
Jane Fisher, a professor of global health and academic clinical and health psychologist at Monash University, is not so sold on the touted benefits of screaming.
“People feel powerless, that they’ve lost agency to act in their own lives and understandably are perhaps seeing this as a collective way of expressing that frustration,” Professor Fisher said.
“I guess, on the other hand, I think there are probably more constructive ways of responding to frustration than collective screaming.”
She said while it might bring short-term relief, the more useful thing to attempt, however difficult, was to consider how you could change your mindset about your situation, even if you can’t change the circumstances one bit.
Professor Fisher said part of the frustration drawing people to the idea of a mutual scream was the “loss of autonomy”.
“To be able to determine how we spend our time, who we see, what we do with our lives. And that is a very profound thing to lose,” she said.
“[But] the only thing over which we can have agency is the way we think. The events are not ones which we can change. But what we can change is how we think about them.”
Monash University is running an online survey during the pandemic, asking Australian adults how they are coping and what they want governments to provide to support them.
Professor Fisher said she hoped the results would help highlight community priorities to politicians so they could focus on rebuilding some of the less tangible things people had lost, such as a sense of purpose and identity with work.
While Ms Roberts feels obliged to step out the front tonight to join the movement she never really intended to create, she said not everyone needed to be loud to release their emotions into the city’s air.
“Switch your porch lights on and off, spelling out ‘I am screaming’ in Morse code,” was one attendee’s suggestion she enjoyed.
“Or do an angry whisper. If you only want the mice and birds to hear you, I mean that’s beautiful. That’s so poetic.”